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Why is Boehner reaching out to Pelosi on immigration reform?

Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Speaker Boehner this morning calling for a bipartisan approach to immigration reform in the House. Pelosi says she wants a comprehensive immigration bill, and that if Speaker Boehner wants to create one by passing parts, that’s his prerogative.

It’s easy to understand why Pelosi takes this position. Her overriding objective is to see the House pass something, so that there will be a House-Senate conference, which is probably the only realistic (though hopefully not very) pathway to the enactment of amnesty legislation. Pelosi is so anxious to get to conference that she has stopped short of saying a pathway to citizenship would be required to for the Democrats to back legislation in the House.

But here’s the part that’s difficult to understand: the Republican leadership in the House reportedly is “reaching out to top House Democrats to assess their support for a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.”

To be sure, Speaker Boehner may need some Democratic votes to pass any immigration legislation — even a simple border enforcement enhancement bill. But a simple enforcement enhancement bill has no chance of being adopted by the Senate, no matter how much bipartisan support it receives.

So Boehner need not seek Democratic support in the interest of border security. Let Democrats in swing districts vote against bills to prevent illegal entry, if they choose, and risk the electoral consequences.

But Boehner clearly wants more than just enhanced enforcement; he wants comprehensive immigration reform. That’s why he’s willing to deal with Pelosi.

To his credit, Boehner nonetheless has pledged to adhere to the Hastert rule, under which no immigration bill (or conference report) makes it to the floor unless a majority of Republican members supports it. That’s two steps forward, as far as I’m concerned. But reaching out to Nancy Pelosi is one step back.

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