Immigration Reform 2013: John Boehner is Damned If He Does, Damned If He Doesn't


House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't on the immigration bill.

If he does bring the bill up for a vote without the majority support of his caucus, he is signing his own political death warrant, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will likely be the next speaker of the House in 2015. But if Boehner does not bring the bill up for a vote, he knows he will alienate Hispanics and give ammunition to the Democrats in Congress, who are eager to pounce on anything, real or imagined, that could be taken as signs of obstructionism.

The advantage is with Democrats. Assuming the Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill in the House comes up against a Republican buzzsaw, the Democrats can and will grandstand on the issue, taking headlines away from the many scandals and embarrassments currently afflicting President Barack Obama's administration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) can easily refuse to consider any bill that seeks to address border security, the main hang-up between the House and Senate, because he knows the Hispanic community will support his move.

Meanwhile, Boehner is facing a grassroots rebellion, and Republican supporters of reform are likely to face challenges in their coming primaries. As a result, Boehner will be put under increasing pressure to concede to a floor vote that is likely to result in the bill passing.  

The best of his bad options is to try and wait out the storm and hope Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and others can hash out a House version of immigration reform that prioritizes border control before citizenship. Then he could attempt to negotiate with Democrats for a merged version of the House and Senate bills.

This would, in an ideal world, signify to the Hispanic community that the GOP is serious about reform and would help repair relations in time before the 2014 midterm elections. The problem with this plan is that Democrats have no real reason to negotiate as they do not desire meaningful border control.

Meaningful border control (and the Corker-Hoeven amendment is not meaningful) would actually hurt Democrats. As the Gang of Eight bill stands, it is almost impossible to tell who actually qualifies for the track to citizenship, which could allow almost anyone who crosses the border the chance to gain citizenship and vote Democrat. However, if Boehner is incredibly lucky, the GOP could ride discontent with Obamacare and the economy into a majority in the House and Senate, allowing the GOP to force a lame duck president into supporting a new reform bill.

His other option is to throw caution to the wind, succumb to pressure, and allow the Gang of Eight bill to be voted on in the House. The bill would most likely pass with minimal GOP support and Boehner's speakership would almost certainly end. While Boehner would likely gain gratitude in the press, there would likely be long-lasting damage to the party, which could even split over the issue. An additional downside is that Democrats would still demoguage to the Hispanic community about how Republican resistance prevented an even more liberal version of the bill from being passed. 

As a result, Boehner does not have any ideal options. He either can continue to destroy the reputation of the GOP with the Hispanic community or end his own speakership for a flawed bill that does not address border security. Right now, his best option is to wait it out and hope for the best, such as more scandals in the Obama administration, but his chances of success with that strategy are not high. Republicans are not likely to gain Hispanic votes regardless of what they do and Boehner may face a rebellion in his caucus.