Power Play

Republicans Try to Duck Obama Narrative on Immigration

The Republican immigration conclave begins. What will Obamacare look like in December? And Reid contemplates "nuclear option"


“If the President can selectively enforce Obamacare, what’s to say he cannot selectively enforce border security?”

– Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.,“Hannity with Sean Hannity” July 9, 2013

House Republicans today will talk about immigration, or, more specifically, how not to talk about immigration.

In what counts as the only major second-term success for President Obama since his tax-hike deal at the start of the year, the Senate dutifully produced and passed a massive, little-understood “comprehensive” immigration package that trades the legalization of border jumpers in the country already for guarantees of future security measures.

The legislation was tough to take for the Senate Republicans who signed on, but many, including co-sponsor Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did so confident in the knowledge that any final legislation would have to pass through the narrow straits of the Republican House. The belief that Democrats were too successful in exploiting the status quo – de facto amnesty plus a powerful wedge issue in elections – led many Republicans in the Senate to believe that it was better to pass something imperfect than do nothing.

House Republicans, though, aren’t so sure. Aside from being more conservative than their Senate counterparts, the world has changed since November. Not only has Obama’s clout collapsed under the weight of problems at home and abroad, but the abuses at the IRS and Department of Justice combined with the administration’s decision to ditch portions of Obamacare it does not wish to enforce has left a huge trust deficit. Senate dealmakers unwilling to close loopholes relied heavily on letting cabinet officials steer the immigration plan, something that just won’t fly after months and months of scandal.

But, “the narrative” is a powerful thing. Conventional Washington wisdom says that if House Republicans balk at the Senate immigration plan, the party is doomed to die along with the majority status for white Americans. (See Politico’s distillation of the CW below). But that’s only true if Republicans oblige their detractors and say mean, crazy or racist things during the debate. There’s nothing in polling or good sense that suggests that the Senate version of immigration overhauling stands as the modern equivalent of the Voting Rights Act. A big, bloated, confusing bill isn’t going to be anyone’s rallying cry.


Language control is not so easy for the party with a 2012 standard bearer who rode immigration tough talk to the party’s nomination. Consider House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to raise money earlier this month with Rep. Don Young, the moderate Republican from Alaska. Boehner joined the roar of disapproval in March when Young in a radio interview talked about the “wetbacks” that once worked on his family farm, but flew to Alaska this month to pick up checks from Young’s allies. Dispensation, it seems, did not go out with the Reformation.


Republicans do not want to be distracted by Obama’s immigration push ahead of soon-to-be epic fiscal fights. And when it comes to issues other than debt and spending, they would rather be talking about the sudden mutation of Obamacare, the effort to throttle the IRS or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bid to oblige his union patrons by nuking Senate rules.

Plus, the more Republicans talk about immigration the more likely someone is to say something terrible, like Young, or something innocent that gets held up by CW purveyors as evidence that the party is dying along with the immigration bill.

But Boehner’s strategy of allowing House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte to take his time on finalizing bills and moving them through regular order guarantee that the Obama Democrats and mind-melded media will have months to comb through Republican activities on immigration.

So while House leaders will be listening to members vent on immigration today, they’ll be talking too. The message is a simple one: Don’t talk about it, and if you do, for God’s sake don’t sound like Mitt Romney or Don Young.

Senate Republicans did themselves a good turn on immigration. Not only did the discussion mostly occur without epithets or xenophobia, but it also provided a prime-time stage to two young Hispanic stars, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Two charismatic, young Hispanics debating different sides of the issue was good publicity for the party. But there is not much chance of a similarly constructive and well-cast public debate among House members.

House Republicans today will get a primer on how to talk about the issue. The essence: No se puede.  

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I understand Karzai is admittedly unstable, likely bipolar and terminally ungrateful.  Let's stipulate that.  But Karzai is not forever. The Islamists in Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to be there for a very long time.  And the president has to make a decision not based on Karzai and not based on emotion or personal resentment.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.