The immigration reform endgame

Earlier today, I discussed a way in which the House leadership could bring a comprehensive, amnesty-style immigration reform bill up for a vote without clearly violating the Hastert Rule (under which only legislation supported by half of the Republican caucus comes to a vote). The House leadership could accomplish this, I speculated, if the House passes its own, significantly different immigration reform measure and then, in conference, accedes to a legislation similar to that passed by the Senate.

In this scenario, the leadership would likely grant an up-or-down vote on the theory that the legislation deserves one now that the process has reached this late stage. The Senate-style bill would then pass the House with a few dozen Republican votes.

But wouldn’t Senate Dems have to make some concessions in conference? The answer, I think, is yes. So the question becomes, what kind of concessions.

Sen. Cornyn provided a clue in his exchange of tweets with Mickey Kaus. Cornyn told Kaus, “conference with House is endgame. Otherwise we are stuck on status quo.”

Cornyn’s objective is to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, but to modify Schumer-Rubio to require a “90 percent apprehension rate” at the Southern border before legalized illegals can obtain green cards. He proposed such an amendment.

This wasn’t much of an “ask” by Cornyn. The 90 percent apprehension rate requirement is easily manipulated (no one really knows at what rate illegal aliens are being apprehended). Moreover, under Cornyn’s amendment illegal aliens become “legal” before the apprehension rate requirement takes effect.

Nonetheless, Cornyn’s amendment was a non-starter in the Senate. Harry Reid went so far as to call it a poison pill.

This is where Cornyn’s endgame kicks in. He understands (as do Reid, Schumer, Rubio, etc.) that the House is likely to pass something but unlikely to pass Schumer-Rubio as currently constituted. Thus, a conference compromise will become the order of the day.

At this point, I suspect, Cornyn’s approach will reemerge. It’s not much of an “ask,” so the Democrats might well agree to it. And because they have denounced the approach so thoroughly, it will look like they are making a major concession.

Thus, Republican negotiators will be able to declare victory of a sort, and agree to the legalization of illegal aliens before any border enforcement requirements (other than the submission of a plan) have been satisfied. In addition, the House leadership will have enough cover to proceed to an up-or-down vote, and a few dozen House Republicans will have the cover they need to vote “up.”

This scenario may not just be Cornyn’s endgame. It may be the endgame of (1) Harry Reid and the Gang of Eight and (2) the House Republican leadership.

In any case, I suspect that these two sets of actors regard it as an acceptable outcome. But most conservatives will not.