How Chuck Schumer built an immigration trap for the House Republicans

Briefing: Schumer. (via schumer's flickr stream.)
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Chuck Schumer set a high bar for the immigration reform bill in the Senate.

After months of negotiating, amending, deflecting and horse-trading, the Senate yesterday approved the bill, which includes both a pathway to citizenship and a dramatic escalation of border security, with 68 votes, just two shy of Schumer's stated goal.

Schumer talked about the political need for 70 votes in nearly every interview about the bill, leading Democrats to question why he was setting such a challenging goal, and whether it was worth making the compromises with Republicans it would take to get there.

Led by Schumer, the Senate's bipartisan so-called Gang of Eight beefed up the bill's border security requirements, which helped win over 14 Republicans, but also cost the bill support from some allies on the left.

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Schumer's colleagues in the Senate leadership, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, worried about moving the bill too far to the right before it even goes to the Republican-held House, which would presumably tug the bill even farther in the direction of border security at the expense of creating legal opportunities for immigrants to become citizens.

But now, with the Senate overwhelmingly approving a bill, it seems that Schumer made the right strategic decision in bending over backward to attract broad support.

As Brian Beutler points out, House Speaker John Boehner can't dismiss Schumer's 68-vote bill as a one-sided, partisan effort.

Which in turn leaves Boehner with the unattractive options of passing a similar House bill with help from Democrats, over the objections of many of his conservative members, creating a partisan, non-starter answer to the Senate bill, or effectively refusing to do anything. 

He has promised Republicans he won't bring the Senate bill on the floor, or any bill for that matter, unless a majority of his conference supports it (in keeping with the apocryphal "Hastert Rule").

But if he drafts a more conservative bill, without a path to citizenship, he'll lose Democratic support and have to pass it with only his Republicans. Which anyway seems nearly impossible, given the party's infighting; last week, despite the urging of their leaders, Republicans failed to unite behind a farm bill, which went down to an embarrassing defeat.

He could pass the legislation piecemeal, but that doesn't offer much leverage in conference. Or he could do what he did on previous deals for the debt ceiling and Sandy aid, and eventually pass the bill with a majority of Democrats and a smattering of Republicans.

House Republicans will meet on July 10 to try to figure out a way around Schumer 's bill. But it won't be easy.--Reid Pillifant

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