Politico’s “Playbook” morning email author Mike Allen and its executive editor Jim Vandehei wrote on Thursday morning that immigration overhaul efforts will be on hold until 2017 because of President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization to militarily strike Syria.
“The fall must-do list for Congress was already so crowded that House Republicans were spreading the word that there was unlikely to be time to finish an immigration package – a handy, albeit probably accurate, excuse,” Allen and Vandehei wrote in a piece that detailed how Syria affects the congressional calendar. “Until a few weeks ago, Hill strategists in both parties had said they thought immigration had a chance in 2015. Now, the smart money is on 2017.”
The new conventional wisdom prediction of any sweeping legislation being pushed back until 2017 is a marked change from what those in the establishment were predicting just weeks ago. At the end of 2012 and throughout the first half of 2013 all the way up until now, many people in the political establishment had predicted America’s at least 11 million illegal aliens would have amnesty by the beginning of the August congressional recess. Thus far, they have failed.
The Senate’s “Gang of Eight” bill passed the U.S. Senate shortly before the July 4 recess. The Gang of Eight had convened in late January, and did not even introduce its legislation until mid-April. Originally, the Senate bill was predicted to have passed much earlier than it did and with much more support than it had. There were no hearings scheduled, either, when the bill was going to be introduced.
After public outcry from conservatives, the Senate Democratic Leadership agreed to hold just one hearing–at which then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Congressional Budget Office director and former adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Gang of Eight member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) Doug Holtz-Eakin, both advocates for the legislation, and U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, an opponent of the bill, were to testify. The hearing was scheduled for a Friday less than three days after the bill was introduced after midnight one evening in mid-April. With more public outcry, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to one more hearing–a marathon hearing with four panels and 23 witnesses, all but six of whom supported the legislation–the following Monday. (Napolitano’s scheduled testimony that Friday in April was pushed back to the Tuesday after due to the Boston terrorist attack.)
After two hearings, the Senate proceeded into a robotic markup of the then more-than-800-page-long bill. Instead of simplifying the comprehensive legislation, lawmakers actually extended its length to more than 1,000 pages in the process. Throughout the course of the markup, which took place over just a few days in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the public learned more and more about the legislation, and became ardently opposed to it. Talking points stopped working as the credibility of the members trying to sell the legislation was shot. More and more outrageous examples of the rhetoric not matching the legislative text became clearer and more apparent as conservative media like Breitbart News and conservative members of Congress, especially Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), dug into it and conducted meaningful analyses of the proposal.
The Gang of Eight trucked on to the Senate floor, where public outcry against the amnesty plan grew so hot it became unclear over the couple of weeks of floor debate on the bill whether or not the Senate even had the 60 votes needed for cloture to force the final product to a vote in the full Senate. In came Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John Hoeven (R-ND) with an amendment that was sold with similar talking points later determined to be far-fetched–they argued it was border-security heavy, and was not an amnesty. It still had the fundamental problems of the main Gang of Eight bill, though, in that it provided an amnesty to America’s illegal aliens before securing the border and enforcing the nation’s interior immigration laws.
With the political cover of the new Corker-Hoeven amendment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cut off floor debate quickly before the July 4 recess week could pull any more votes away, and moved forward with the amendment, which contained a package of handouts to secure votes from many establishment Republicans and Democrats on the fence. He forced it to the floor, and up for a vote, and the new pork-filled bill scraped past the Senate 68-32, at margins far less than what Gang of Eight members Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) publicly predicted.
The House was also expected to move quickly. According to a June 9 article from Allen’s and Vandehei’s colleagues Jake Sherman and Seung Min Kim, House Speaker John Boehner wanted to make moves on immigration before the July 4 recess.
“The speaker wants House committees–Judiciary has primary jurisdiction–to wrap up their work on a version of immigration legislation before the July 4 recess. And he would like immigration reform to see a House vote before Congress breaks in August,” Sherman and Kim wrote in early June. “His goal is to begin moving either bite-size immigration bills or the bipartisan House immigration group’s legislation through committees before the Senate passes its bill, which could happen by the end of this month.”
Obviously, that has not happened. The House has not passed any bills and its plan keeps changing. Originally, the House had its own version of the Gang of Eight and was going to introduce its own comprehensive bill. In April, Rep. John Carter (R-TX), a member of then House Gang of Eight, said the House comprehensive bill was going to be tougher than the Senate bill. “I think Speaker Boehner is going to allow this bill to come to the floor, and we hope it will be the majority of the majority, but we don’t know,” Carter said at an April event favoring amnesty, according to the Huffington Post. “We went into this whole project saying that there’s x number of people on both sides of the aisle that aren’t going to vote for immigration reform no matter what — take those out and see what we have left to get this passed. That’s probably what’s going to happen.”
The House Gang of Eight showed signs of falling apart when Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) left in early June, but stayed together as the House “Gang of Seven” and still planned to move forward with introducing a House comprehensive bill. It has not actually introduced a bill, and it does not appear as though it will any time soon.
When it became clear that the public disapproved of how little the House distanced itself from the Senate bill, House GOP leaders devised a new strategy before August recess: Piecemeal legislation. The House was going to introduce a group of several individual bills, then take them to conference committee with the Senate bill–all part of an effort to alleviate public pressure to not pass any amnesty legislation. The House was going to take up parts of that strategy before the August recess. President Barack Obama himself advocated the House do so before August recess, but it did not work.
Only a couple of those bills were introduced in various House committees–an interior enforcement bill from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and a border security bill from House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX)–and none have seen any time on the House floor. As the Congress was headed into August recess, Breitbart News reported on the House GOP leadership’s willingness to use those piecemeal bills as a means to get to a comprehensive bill that looked like the Senate bill via a conference committee where the two chambers of Congress combine similar pieces of legislation. A bill that has yet to have been introduced, for instance, is a House GOP version of the DREAM Act called the KIDS Act from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
At town hall meetings with constituents at the beginning of the recess, House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) let slip parts of what House GOP leadership’s plan was to get to conference at which Ryan said the House would “fix” the Senate bill. They said they were going to take up the bills in October, move them through the House then, and eventually reach a conference. Public outcry again ensued, and Tea Party activists around the country engaged their members at town hall meeting and by calling and emailing their congressmen.
After it became clear that the public would not settle for that House GOP leadership plan, establishment Republicans came out to say amnesty would pass somewhere between six to nine months from now. That new prediction in early August was a remarkable turnaround from comments some made just a couple weeks beforehand, where many said they expected House GOP leadership to act sooner rather than later. More amnesty-aligned GOP groups piled onto that narrative shortly thereafter.
With the focus on Capitol Hill shifting to the Syrian “use-of-force” vote, the defunding Obamacare effort, the Continuing Resolution to fund the government, and the debt ceiling battle, conservatives will be on guard to not lose sight of immigration reform being passed in some way. Conservatives on Capitol Hill are warning the American people to not lose sight of the battle against amnesty. They fear the talk of amnesty being off the table until 2017, like the article from Politico’s Allen and Vandehei, means establishment politicians could get something through while people’s attention is focused elsewhere. They also argue that there is no doubt the special interest groups lobbying for amnesty are using the quiet period to drive forth their efforts under the cover of darkness, and quietly lock up support for when they make another public push–which could be sooner than many in the mainstream media expect.
“The Chamber, AFL-CIO, Silicon Valley and corporate-funded faux Republican front groups are loving this, because they know it’s taking the opposition’s eye off the ball,” one GOP congressional aide said. “But, many know that this is the case.”
It will be difficult for the establishment to try to pass any amnesty legislation after the early parts of 2014, but given the powerful interests driving for it, do not count the pro-amnesty crowd out yet.