The Washington Post reports that “as the full Senate engages in intensive deliberations over a landmark immigration bill this week, proponents are scrambling to maintain crucial bipartisan support in the face of Republican demands to strengthen border security.” To me, though, the Senate goings-on look more like dancing than scrambling.
Marco Rubio understands that, in the words of the Post’s Democratic sources, his “effectiveness as a conservative supporter of the bill is boosted by the impression that he is fighting on behalf of changes sought by Republican-leaning groups.” But fostering that impression isn’t just about the immigration debate. Rubio understands that to be viable in GOP presidential politics he needs to improve the impression he has made to date on the matter of border security.
Accordingly, he dances. The Post tells us that he’s “discussing ideas with GOP colleagues and considering offering an amendment to address their concerns,” including perhaps “provisions allowing Congress to set specific border metrics for the Department of Homeland Security to achieve before the permanent legalization of undocumented immigrants can begin.”
This amounts to putting more lipstick on the pig. Rubio has acknowledged (e.g., on Sean Hannity’s forum) that the core border enforcement problem is that the government can’t be trusted to secure the border, whatever promises might be made legislatively. The provisions mentioned above don’t address this problem.
Nor are they intended to. They are intended to address Rubio’s twin political problems: how to get enough votes for amnesty to build momentum in the House and how to improve his diminished standing among conservatives. If Rubio had been serious about border enforcement, he would not have sponsored legislation whose enforcement provisions he implies are inadequate.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are also dancing. Rubio’s colleagues in the Gang of Eight want to provide him with the political cover he needs to maximize his effectiveness as an amnesty supporter. Indeed, if push ever came to shove, they probably would be willing to make broad concessions on the enforcement side in exchange for amnesty and a path to citizenship, knowing that the enforcement provisions probably can be pushed aside administratively, if necessary.
However, the Democrats love the deal they have now, and probably believe that can muster 60 votes. To get closer to their goal of 70 while retaining the current deal, their dance is to pretend that whatever minor tweaks Rubio comes up with are important concessions that push them to the outer limits of what they can accept.
To make sure that Rubio and Schumer continue to dance in step, the Gang of Eight plans, according to the Post, “to meet each day of the lengthy floor debate to discuss pending amendments and come up with ways to lure Republican votes while also keeping the core of the bill’s principles intact.” This was the Gang’s practice during Judiciary Committee hearings, as well.
The fix was in then and the fix is in now. All the dancing in the world shouldn’t obscure this reality.