Migrating into power

It’s no secret that governance is harder than opposition, in the same way that building something is more difficult than knocking it down.

Democrats are finding this out somewhat painfully as they start using muscles atrophied by 12 years out of power on Capitol Hill.

The trouble Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants are having herding the House Democratic Caucus to vote for their $124 billion Iraq war-funding bill is partly a symptom of this. (Of course, it would help her if some of her lieutenants did not themselves need to be corralled.)

Today, the governing party will launch itself into another massively controversial policy area. Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezDHS to make migrants wait in Mexico while asylum claims processed Coffman loses GOP seat in Colorado Trump changes mean only wealthy immigrants may apply, says critic MORE (Ill.), the Democratic point man on immigration, will introduce bipartisan legislation with Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Ariz.) broadly reflecting the guest worker/immigration reform legislation pushed through the Senate last year by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain argues with Andrew Yang about free marriage counseling proposal Veterans groups hand out USS John McCain shirts on National Mall during Trump speech Trump is still on track to win reelection MORE (R-Ariz.).

It contains a “touchback” provision requiring illegal immigrants to go to a U.S. entry port to register, a move apparently designed to appear to force illegal entrants to leave without actually doing so. This and a range of increased penalties for border-related crimes are doubtless intended to comfort those who oppose a guest-worker program on the grounds that it amounts to a crime-rewarding amnesty.

The legislation also obliges employers to pay guest workers the same wages and give them the same conditions as are available to Americans. This doffs its hat to labor concerns that union members not be undercut by cheap foreign workers. It will also make foreign workers less attractive to employers and thus might reduce the flow of unskilled immigrants in the country.

The way the legislation reaches out to constituencies at each end of the ideological and policy spectrum is a measure of how many ways immigration is viewed and how difficult it will be to pass the House bill.

The Republican leadership can be expected to push GOP lawmakers to vote en bloc against a liberal guest-worker program. Labor unions will, at the same time, be suspicious that foreigners will depress wages.

A few months ago, before their Nov. 7 election victory, Democrats had the luxury of being able to say nothing on the issue and instead sit back while Republicans tore each other apart. Immigration was not even mentioned in “New Direction for America,” the Democrats’ 25-page midterm platform.

But the issue is here now, and it won’t go away. The disposition of the Congress makes a wide-ranging immigration bill more likely to pass this year than last, but that does not mean it will be easy.