Published June 24, 2013
“If you agree with us, reach out to your senators and representatives. Tell them that the time for excuses is over. It’s time to fix our broken immigration system once and for all.”
-- President Obama in his weekly address.
Imagine what the immigration measure lumbering its way through the Senate would have looked like if six months ago, Republicans could have seen the headlines of today.
No, not the ones about conservative attacks on the legislation and allegations of duplicity against the members of the bipartisan team trying to get the behemoth bill out the door. Those were easily foreseen.
Burned before, voters are now hostile to massive “comprehensive” legislation. They do not have the requisite trust in the federal government and Congress to believe that their interests or even the national interest are being pursued whenever lawmakers and lobbyists start cranking out thousands of pages of anything.
“Too big to fail” used to work for Congress in the days of earmarks and flush highway funds. If you get to an impasse, just expand the scope of the legislation. If Senator Sputtersworth has a complaint, just toss in some goodies for his state – maybe a research center bearing his name at the university.
But now, deeply in debt, those old practices are harder to come by. The goodies in President Obama’s 2010 health law were vestiges of that dying era.
What really has killed “comprehensive” legislation, though, is the Internet. When then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Congress needed to pass Obama’s health law so the public could find out what was in it, she wasn’t being ridiculous, just ridiculously out of date.
The old way of working was for lawmakers to hash out deals that they believed (or said they believed) were in the best interests of their constituents with only minuscule, Beltway-bound news coverage. Pelosi came up in a political world without broad public oversight, not one with crowdsourced scrutiny for controversial legislation.
Washington still hasn’t found a better way to do it. The Republican House, created in large part by the backlash against the health law and the secretively slapdash way in which it was constructed, has had only marginal success at implementing the new approach.
The result has been a return to old methods when the chips are down, e.g. the “fiscal cliff,” but an inability to pass big bills under the new protocols, e.g. the recent debacle over farm subsidies and food stamps. The virtues of transparency and regular order play well with voters, but Washington has not found a way to make them work.
And so whatever the Senate extrudes (if anything) on immigration after the addition of an amendment on border security that itself is some 33 times longer than the bill that created the Social Security program, the House is highly unlikely to pass anything comprehensive.
As we saw on the bill for farm subsidies and food stamps, Democrats are quite unwilling to help Speaker John Boehner on tricky legislation. And if they couldn’t get the job done for their friends in agribusiness and welfare recipients, it seems even less unlikely that they will do it on illegal immigration. Democrats believe the issue is a good one for them and love seeing Republicans squirm.
But all of that was predictable and even knowing all that has come to pass – seeing all of the headlines on the right side of the Internet – Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio would likely have proceeded. Republicans rightly believe that the issue is a toxic one for them and needs to be addressed before the 2016 cycle is fully underway.
No, the headlines that would have changed the party’s thinking on how to proceed on immigration would have nothing to do with border security or pathways to citizenship.
It would have been ones like: “Russia defiant as US raises pressure over Snowden,” “IRS supervisor admits scrutinizing applications from Tea Party groups,” “Pressure mounts for Holder resignation,” “Obamacare causing nearly half of small businesses to freeze hiring,” “Obama hits a wall in Berlin” and on and on.
When the process of building the immigration deal began, it was not unreasonable to think that Obama, who had defied political gravity for so long, would also be able to defeat the second-term curse. As it turns out, Obama was due for a karmic crackdown of epic proportions.
Obama’s speech on nuclear weapons and global warming in Berlin last week has become a metaphor for his second term: trapped in a box and sweating through his shirt.
Watching world leaders delight in ignoring his demands – stop arming Syrian butchers, hand over the NSA leaker, quit building coal-fired power plants, etc. – shows us how far Obama’s stock has fallen.
The idea that the president, whose permanent campaign arm has so far proven more effective at soliciting money from his well-heeled corporate benefactors than making progress for his initiatives, will be leading any movements from the White House has gone from plausible to risible in the span of six months.
Obama keeps trying to skip ahead to the phase of his presidency in which he bequeaths his vision to a nation trapped in darkness and forges a new, more moderate Republican Party from the ashes of the one he destroys. But he can’t bring the heat anymore.
Had Republicans known just how quickly things would have soured for Obama, they would have certainly started with enforcement on immigration and let Democrats defend a broken system. Border security wouldn’t have been an amendment, it would have been the start of the bill.
Now, Republicans are trying to recalibrate for the new political realities. They may not do it in time or may overcorrect when it comes time for the House to make its case on the subject. But whatever happens, the idea that Obama, under fire left, right and center, will be doing much more than kiester covering for the foreseeable future is sounding very out of date indeed.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.