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Will Boehner pave the path to citizenship?

There are powerful arguments on both sides of the immigration reform issue.  Boehner appears more drawn to the legal principle of “atonement and redemption” than to “an eye for an eye.”  And he may well consider, on the merits, a path to earned citizenship for those otherwise of good character most beneficial to America and to the GOP.

On the other hand Boehner authentically has high respect for the rule of law.  And those who know him say that, as an institutional loyalist, he deeply respects the principle of subsidiarity.  That implies deference to the sentiment of his majority.

Hard conflicts create defining moments.  Boehner is an interesting, deeply underestimated, man.  He brilliantly played a weak hand to make 99 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent.  And he may go down in history as the master who staunched Washington’s hemorrhaging of America’s wealth.

Some opposing a path to earned citizenship are hyperventilating.  They are suffused with lugubrious dread:

“We are scared to death of what we figure is already Boehner’s end game,” a senior congressional GOP aide told Breitbart News.

“There are so many forces within the GOP establishment pushing for their interests that it’s hard to conceive that Boehner will not cave to them,” the aide reportedly said.

Scared to death?

Preposterous.  A path to earned citizenship for those otherwise of good character would not put America, or the GOP, at risk.


Boehner is nobody’s patsy.

Some elements on the right oppose any path to citizenship.  They have a legitimate case, “rule of law,” and are making it forcefully.   Few have stated this with greater clarity than Heritage’s president, Jim DeMint.

Some others have stolen a page out of the “Book of the Left.” These seek not just to oppose but to delegitimize the (equally, if not more, conservative) position of supporting a path to earned citizenship.  Such excess is uncalled for.

There is abundant principled conservative support, based on values more than interests, for a path to earned citizenship.  It resides within six powerful segments of the conservative movement.   Supply-siders, libertarians, the Chamber of Commerce wing, the Evangelical and Catholic right, and many social conservatives are, largely, supportive.

These elements are, possibly, being “outvoted” and, certainly, outshouted, by others of the right.  Yet the conservative legitimacy of this stand is beyond question.  As the great Jack Kemp wrote in 2006, “Immigration reform will help keep this nation strong.”

“Failure to address the legitimate issue of immigration reform could also do great harm to the Republican Party.  In many respects, the way Republicans position themselves on immigration will determine whether the party retains the mantle of majority leadership. Will we remain a party that governs – that offers practical solutions to the problems facing the country? Or will we revert to the harsh rhetoric of criminalizing illegals and even those who provide service?” Kemp wrote.

Still, the opposition is ferocious.  Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) famously, or infamously, stated that if Speaker Boehner advanced immigration legislation without the support of a majority of the majority he should be removed.

Boehner well might decide that he need not endure more such naïvely cruel attacks.  He just might employ his high office to pave the path to citizenship.  And depart.

The loss of a conservative with the strategic savvy of Boehner would be something of a tragedy for the Congress, for the GOP, and for America.   Yet, the quality most to be treasured in a public official is not strategic sophistication. It is moral courage.

Boehner is charting America’s, the GOP’s, and his own course into the future, and into history. We do not know — perhaps he does not know — what he will do.  But one thing already is clear:  John Boehner’s decision will be not be from “caving.” Boehner already has shown himself possessed of moral courage: a statesman.

Rayburn… Longworth…  Cannon…  Boehner.

Benko is a former junior official of the Reagan White House and a member of the Conservation Action Project.

Tags Boehner John Boehner
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