The Agenda

Understanding the Immigration Push

Ezra Klein offers a convincing interpretation of Harry Reid’s decision to pursue immigration reform.

What you’re seeing here is why the climate bill was always doomed. Graham is under murderous pressure to drop the thing. No other Republicans have announced their support. It’s an election year, and cap-and-tax is going to be a major theme on conservative talk radio. The evident fragility of Graham’s commitment to the project is not evidence of bad faith, per se, but it’s evidence that there was no way this bill could survive the polarizing political process.

So if you’re Harry Reid and you’re feeling cynical, you’re faced with two choices for the rest of the year: Make climate the issue and back a politically dangerous piece of legislation that probably won’t pass; or make immigration the issue, and force Republicans into a tough, unpopular issue that they may not survive. If 10 Republicans were milling around to help out on climate change, the answer to this would be easy. But having watched Olympia Snowe bail from health-care reform and Bob Corker fail to attach any Republicans (including himself) onto financial reform, what’s the point?

The problem, of course, is that immigration reform is also unlikely to pass. So why pursue it? One possibility is that Senate Democrats are hoping to blunt a Republican resurgence by dividing the right and energizing Democrat-leaning Latino voters.

It’s hardly a mystery that both major parties are motivated by a desire to win elections, and that they shape their agendas to that end. One could characterize this immigration push as a cynical effort to exploit the fears of Latino voters in a manner that won’t actually lead to concrete reforms, thus exacerbating tension around an explosive issue to no discernible end other than political advantage. I wouldn’t embrace that characterization necessarily, but it’s clarifying.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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