I know the conventional wisdom is that an immigration bill is very likely to pass because Republicans now believe they need to back a successful immigration reform process in order to remain politically viable. But that's not true in the next election cycle, which will be in 2014. In 2014, in most districts, Republicans have much, much more to fear from far-right primary challengers than they do from Hispanic voters. Yes, overall the Hispanic vote continues to increase, but the electorate is always much whiter in off-year elections. If we were approaching 2016, Republicans would be desperate to pass a bill. But 2016 is a long way away. Another election comes first.
So the Republican plan, I think, is to fake support for immigration reform, while looking for excuses to vote no. See this Steve Benen post, which is titled "Rubio's Exit Strategy Takes Shape," but might also be called "The GOP's Exit Strategy Takes Shape." Steve writes about the conversation Marco Rubio had today on the radio with Rush Limbaugh:
...the GOP lawmaker seemed to be hinting at an exit strategy from the reform initiative he's helped launch.The Obama administration notes that it's deported undocumented immigrants at a much faster rate than George W. Bush, so the demand for real border security is already being met. But Republicans say they don't believe that.
In an interview with Rush Limbaugh aired Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio said he wouldn't support a bill granting a pathway to citizenship to undocumented immigrants unless it first addressed border security. [...]
"To the point of them not wanting to do the security, look, all I can tell you is that that's a big issue for me," Rubio responded. "That's why I'm involved in this process. I have no reason to believe it won't happen. But if it doesn't, I'll come back to you and say look, it didn't happen. We tried, they put that in the principles, but then they drafted a bill and I couldn't support it."
Rubio also wants unspecified "real enforcement triggers" before there's a path to citizenship. He seems to want a border security commission made up of Southwestern government officials to have absolute power to declare that border security is still inadequate and therefore the citizenship path must wait.
And yet there's Rush Limbaugh saying that what Rubio is doing ""is admirable and noteworthy." The folks at Wingnut Central have clearly told Limbaugh that even he has to seem to be on board, or at least potentially on board. (He grumbles about all the horrible ways Democrats are allegedly going to demagogue this issue -- transcript here, from his site -- but he's suddenly not unswervingly against the effort.)
So the plan is to seem receptive to this -- and then, I think, to make it fail, while trying to pin the failure on Democrats. Then, as I said yesterday, Rubio will say he can get the job done if we make him president in 2016.
I'm not sure this plan will work. I don't think Republicans really can get the public to blame Democrats if this fails. But I think they think they can.