The Obama-Schumer War on Immigration Reform

by Andrew Stiles

The Hill has an in-depth look at the life (and presumed death) of comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the House, with a particular focus on Democrats and their negotiations with the Senate and White House. The piece offers a number of revealing details about what has become one of the most contentious debates on Capitol Hill:

1) Democratic opposition to a “hard trigger” for legalization is one of the greatest impediments to comprehensive reform. 

The media has shown little interest in framing the debate over immigration reform as anything other than a dispute between those who support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and a handful of conservative Republicans who oppose it. But the real sticking point for many opponents of the Gang of Eight legislation has always been the lack of a “hard trigger” — a set of verifiable conditions that must be met before illegal immigrants can register for provisional legal status, the initial step before citizenship is (eventually) granted. Republican senators tried on a number of occasions to insert some kind of hard trigger into the Gang of Eight bill, but were ultimately defeated. 

However, according to The Hill report, House Democrats working on a bipartisan immigration proposal agreed to include a provision that would have granted legal status almost immediately, like the Senate bill, but would have made the continuation of that status dependent on the implementation of an employment-verification system – e-Verify — within five years. House Republicans had demanded such a trigger, and even House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) was on board. But . . .

2) The White House and Senate Democrats helped kill a bipartisan immigration proposal in the House.

President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) were not pleased with House Democrats for including a hard trigger for legalization, and urged them not to release their proposal until the Gang of Eight bill had passed the Senate:

Neither the White House nor Senate Democrats were happy. The Senate bill contained no such hard trigger, and with that proposal advancing steadily toward a floor vote, party leaders worried that the introduction of a more conservative House proposal would scare off Senate Republicans — particularly Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — or cause them to demand similar concessions in the Gang of Eight plan.

“If this proposal had moved forward before the Senate bill passed, there would have been no bill in the House, and no bill in the Senate, period,” a Senate Democratic aide said. . . .

Multiple Democrats in the House group said they understood the concerns of [White House chief of staff Denis] McDonough and Schumer, but said the White House never took seriously their warnings that the House GOP would not accept the Senate bill and that the lower chamber needed its own bill to set up a conference committee.

House Democrats also expressed concern that . . .

3) The White House appears to have lacked a coherent strategy to pass immigration reform in the lower chamber.

Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.)​, a leading Democratic proponent of immigration reform, told The Hill: ”It is clear to me that there was no strategy on the White House’s part post-Senate victory. Because the Senate victory was the strategy.”

Many Republicans have long suspected that when it comes to immigration reform, the Obama administration’s strategy has always been simply to use the issue to attack Republicans in an effort to retake the House in 2014. The insights offered in this report are likely to fuel those concerns.

The Corner

The one and only.