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Congress to Stiff Obama on Immigration?

It's On Harry Reid's Shoulders Now

Roll Call talks to several senior Democratic staffers to gauge the possibility of passing immigration reform this year:

“How do we let more immigrants in, or legalize people, when Americans need jobs?” a senior House Democratic aide said. “Putting aside how horrific the vote is for some people anyway, the politics of this have only gotten worse.”

The aide said immigration reform ranks last among the White House’s highest priorities, after major overhauls of health care, energy, education, financial regulations and fiscal responsibility. “I don’t think the White House is going to go to the mat for immigration,” the aide said.

A senior Senate aide agreed, arguing that despite pressure from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some elements of his own administration, it will be nearly impossible for Obama to complete work on his top priorities if immigration is thrown into the mix.

“With all of Obama’s other initiatives that have been stated, this is going to be a huge list,” the aide said, adding that the Senate is already expected to address energy, health care reform, the annual appropriations process and an equally controversial “card check” labor bill before the end of the year…

And aides added that when that list includes the potential for another supplemental war spending bill, the host of executive and judiciary nominations, and the continuing focus on the economy, it will be almost impossible for either chamber to seriously consider immigration reform before next year unless Obama is willing to drop an issue, such as energy legislation.

Additionally, political realities would likely dictate that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who must contend with the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and a number of Members from traditionally Republican districts — would not take up the bill before the Senate, which would push back action significantly, Democrats said. In fact, a senior House Democratic aide said it is “likely” the Senate will move first on the issue.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in here. First and foremost is the way the administration is playing the latino community. They send out a spokesperson not directly involved with immigration legislation, to send the message that Obama and the Democrats want to get this done. In fact, the issue splits Democrats so badly they’ll be unlikely to get consensus in their conference, and therefore probably won’t get it done.

Further, it’s noteworthy that a Democratic leadership aide volunteers off-the-record that Card Check is one of the priorities for action this year. There’s lots of speculation that Senate Democrats can’t muster the votes for it; if that’s the case, why does it warrant a mention? It seems that Card Check is likely to come up – either in its current form, or in some sort of watered-down version.

To the extent that Obama attempts to move immigration legislation, it seems like it will have to start in the Senate:

Additionally, political realities would likely dictate that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who must contend with the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and a number of Members from traditionally Republican districts — would not take up the bill before the Senate, which would push back action significantly, Democrats said. In fact, a senior House Democratic aide said it is “likely” the Senate will move first on the issue…

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “expects to take a bill to the floor sometime this fall,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said, adding that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, would lead the charge.

In a statement, Schumer said he believes there is a chance to reform immigration laws this year.

“We must solve the immigration issue and we can, even in these difficult economic times. I believe there is a real chance of passing comprehensive reform this year, and the Senate panel on immigration will begin a series of meetings and hearings later this month with an eye towards meeting that goal,” Schumer said.

John McCain recently said that he would not push for comprehensive immigration legislation; he said Obama would have to take the lead. If Obama does so, how much help will he get from McCain, and are there enough Republican votes to help Democrats break a filibuster? Answer that question and you’ll get a better sense of whether Schumer is serious, or whether he’s simply setting up Republicans to take the ‘blame’ if and when this fails. Given the strong opposition popping up all over the place, Obama and the Democrats may be doing nothing more than putting on a show before blaming the GOP.

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