Boehner’s New Immigration Manager

by Mark Krikorian

Some further thoughts on Speaker Boehner’s decision to hire former McCain chief of staff Rebecca Tallent as his amnesty czarina:

Bob Goodlatte must be pissed. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, immigration legislation is supposed to originate under his direction. And, in fact, his committee has already passed several targeted immigration bills. Some are good, others aren’t, but they’ve proceeded through the regular order of House lawmaking. Tallent’s hiring is a slap in the face to Goodlatte, making clear that the speaker will be running immigration directly through his office.

My limited experience with Tallent suggests she’s more of a political fixer than a policy wonk. I was on a panel discussion with her during the 2007 (I think) legislative conference of the National Association of Counties. We each did our thing and afterwards I asked her an elementary question about some part of her boss’s legislation – I don’t remember exactly what but it wasn’t anything technical or detailed. Her cheery answer was something to the effect of, “Oh, Kennedy’s people handle that sort of thing.” I was still naïve enough to be shocked.

Tallent’s job presumably is to try to come up with something that a majority of the Republican caucus can live with, so as to be able to bring it to a vote without breaking the Hastert Rule. It seems unlikely she could pull that off, but it might not matter if Boehner has decided to retire to a lucrative lobbying gig after this Congress ends at the end of 2014. In that case, the likelihood of his losing his speakership for passing amnesty with mainly Democratic votes might not matter to him. Tallent herself alluded to such an approach last month (when she had almost certainly already accepted the job with Boehner) in comments to the Arizona Republic: “You’re going to have to get the stuff off the floor with Democratic votes.”

Assuming Boehner sticks to the “step-by-step” approach of separate, targeted bills, it’s not clear that even if such measures pass the House how they’d pass the Senate. If the Senate were to pass any of the individual measures the House might pass the whole “comprehensive” coalition could fall apart. If the House were to send, say, a bill increasing the number of cheap-labor visas for tech companies — on its own, not as part of a “package” of other bills — Harry Reid isn’t going to vote on it because if the tech firms got what they wanted in a free-standing bill, they’d lose any incentive they’d had in the other pieces of the comprehensive agenda.

That said, perhaps – and this may just be whistling past the graveyard – but perhaps Boehner hired Tallent simply to placate the moneybags corporate lobbyists pressuring him on immigration. He’s not opposed to the Chamber of Commerce agenda of amnesty and de facto unlimited immigration, but it’s not that important to him either. So he can get the business lobbyists off his back with such a high-profile hire; if she manages to pull it off, that’s okay, and if she fails, as is likely, he can tell his big donors that he tried his best.

Whatever Boehner’s plans, his hiring Tallent highlights – and reinforces — the lack of trust of conservatives in the Republican leadership. It’s not that the leadership isn’t conservative enough. A party has to win elections, and conservatives don’t make up a large enough share of the population to do that on their own. It’s the dishonesty that creates mistrust, the feints to the right followed by moving back toward the left as soon as possible. And Boehner’s move has just deepened that distrust.