Boehner’s dilemma

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is very likely to pass an immigration reform bill, but its content is unknown.

The Speaker’s desire to act on reform is based on a vocal consensus of the national Republican Party leadership that’s correctly advised him that the GOP cannot be the impediment that blocks reform. Stung by the overwhelming Latino vote for President Obama in 2012, all the Republican leaders grasp that the bill must pass in some form. It is important that Boehner remove the issue from the national stage by passing the bill and ending an irritant that keeps Latinos voting Democratic.

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The perfect solution for Republicans is the approach charted by Texas Sen. John Cornyn: border security before immigration reform. Cornyn’s approach demands that the border be sealed before any legalization begins. He articulates conservative fears that amnesty will trigger its own flow of new illegal immigrants into the U.S. unless they are physically barred from entering. We do not need millions more in the purgatory of limbo waiting for Congress to act. Sealing the border needs to come first.

But, while Boehner can probably get the centrists in the GOP House caucus to fall in line behind the Cornyn approach, he could be undone by defections on the right. As far right as the Cornyn amendment is, it still allows for legalization once the border is secured. There is an irreconcilable block among House Republicans that rejects any form of amnesty or legalization now and forever, whether the border is sealed or not. Their defections over even the Cornyn amendment would force Boehner to seek Democratic votes to pass immigration reform in any form.

But here, Boehner runs into a vicious circle: The more Democratic votes he needs, the more he will have to move the legislation to the left. And the more he does that, the fewer Republican votes he will attract. Eventually, he might be left with the Senate version of immigration reform, which makes a mockery of border security by throwing resources at the problem but requiring no solution before legalization begins.

Boehner’s reassurance that he will not bring a bill to the floor without a majority of his own caucus behind it offers no consolation. A majority of the House Republicans would likely support such a compromise, leaving more than a third of the party behind. A Senate-like bill would sail through the conference committee and get Obama’s signature in a heartbeat. It just won’t solve the immigration problem.

If the president wanted to seal the border, he has adequate resources to do so now. He just doesn’t want to do so. He would like the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. to continue, secure in the expectation that each new shipment assures liberal Democratic victories as far as the eye can see.

Only legislation that requires border security before Obama can deliver legalization to his Latino constituency will impel the reluctant president to act. But defections from the extreme right of the Republican caucus may make it impossible to pass such a bill in the House.

Will the new Latino citizens be Democrats? Who knows right now? They will not be voting until 2026 at the earliest. So that’s the wrong question.

Will the GOP get credit for the passage of immigration reform? Again, that’s the wrong question.

The passage of immigration reform will clear the way for Latinos to move to the Republican Party. Attracted by its social policies, repelled by Democratic fiscal views, and entrepreneurial to the core, the current Latino citizens and voters will once again be in play if immigration reform passes.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.