A Republican Immigration Reform Bill: The Politics of Timing, Pt. 2

By Stanley Renshon on May 19, 2014

Republicans have three basic choices regarding an immigration reform bill; they can support the Democrat's Senate (and House) bill, do nothing, or forge their own.

The most obvious best choice for Republicans is to write their own bill. But when?

The choices are these:

  1. Try to work out an immigration bill before the midterm elections take place.

  2. Wait until after the midterm elections take place and then use the leverage of any win to negotiate an immigration bill, perhaps in the "lame duck" session before the new Congress formally convenes.

  3. Wait until the new Congress is seated and whether the Republicans win the Senate or not, but especially if they do win the Senate, pass an immigration bill, knowing the 2013 Democratic Senate bill is not likely to be revisited in its current state.

Stated this directly the choices sort themselves out fairly easily. The first choice, do something now, is the first choice of President Obama and his Democratic and Republican allies, but not for the reasons they say.

The president recently told a group of supporters that,

But we've got this narrow window. The closer we get to the midterm elections the harder it is to get things done around here. Now, I know it's hard to believe that things could get harder — (laughter) — that this place could get a little more dysfunctional. But it's just very hard right before an election. So we've got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives.

The president's view was endorsed by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also specified an August deadline for Republicans to pass a bill.

What the president and Sen. Schumer didn't say is that, although it may be harder to get a bill through Congress immediately before the congressional elections, it might be comparatively easy to do so after the midterm term elections. The difference would be that it is likely to be a much different bill if Republicans win the Senate, and even if they don't, the 2013 Senate Democratic bill dies when the new Congress convenes.

And that is very likely the real motivation for the push to get Republicans to pass something by August. Not surprisingly the Chamber of Commerce that would gain hundreds of thousands of additional new visas for its members' stated immigration needs from the 2013 Senate Democratic bill has also signed on to this August deadline, and most likely for the same reasons.

The threats — more administrative amnesties from the president, and the Chamber of Commerce not helping Republicans during the next presidential election – are signs of desperation.

Trying to pass any immigration bill in only the House in order to meet the president's, Chuck Schumer's, or the Chamber of Commerce's August deadline would be an act of historic and willful misjudgment. After all, by August, the midterm elections are only two months away and there are absolutely no political or policy reasons for Republicans not to await the results of that election and see if they don't have a strong hand for real immigration reform.

At least some influential Republicans appear to understand that crucial point.

Next: Avoiding GOP Immigration Reform Self-Sabotage, Pt. 1: The Primaries Trap!