Senate Okays Immigration-Reform Debate 82–15

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This is the most outrageous legislation since ... something ... and we must ... eh, whatever.
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate has voted on the “motion to proceed” on immigration reform by an 82–15 vote. In a sense, the lopsided tally is misleading. It’s a vote to have a debate on immigration reform, not a vote for a particular bill, which is sure to attract fewer than 82 votes in the end, and probably far fewer. But it gives the general impression that conservative opponents are merely going through the motions and have made their peace with a likely defeat. And that impression is not wrong.

That 82 votes is a signal that Republicans in the Senate are, indeed, not using every tool they have to block a bill. Eighty-two votes to proceed is a way of signaling that the status quo, not the expected outlines of a bill, is what is most unacceptable. This is the opposite of how Republicans have approached the major legislation of the Obama era, beginning with the stimulus, when they did not make any distinction between voting to allow debate and voting on the underlying merits of the final bill. Republican senators today faced a choice to position themselves as fundamentally opposed to the entire process, and most of them decided to stand aside.

Of course, the major obstacle remains the House, but here the news remains positive. This morning, George Stephanopoulos interviewed John Boehner and asked the key question of the entire debate: Will he let a bill come to a vote without a majority support of his own party? Passing a bill through the House with 218 votes is not very hard, if Boehner is willing to let Democrats supply most of those votes. The question is whether he’ll stop that vote from happening. This answer does not sound like “no”:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But in the end, you're gonna have to make the big call. You're gonna have to make the call on whether or not to allow a vote on a bill-- that perhaps doesn't get a majority of Republicans. (COUGH) In the past, you have not been willing to do that. Are you willing to do it now?

BOEHNER: George, I-- listen. I've allowed the House to work with-- t-- well, more than any speaker in modern history, to the point where there are some bills that have passed-- with a majority of Democrats-- in favor, and a minority of Republicans--

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're willing to do that with immigration.

BOEHNER: --and I've been criticized for it. What I'm committed to is a fair and open process on the floor of the House-- so that all members-- have an opportunity.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And--

BOEHNER: It's not up-- it's not about what I want. It's about what the House wants. And my job is-- as speaker-- is to ensure that all members on both sides have a fair shot at their ideas--

STEPHANOPOULOS: And if that means-- if that means putting on the floor a bill that will get more Democrats than Republicans, the majority of Democrats, not--

BOEHNER: I-- I don't believe that will be the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're open to it?

BOEHNER: We're gonna let the House work its will.

The sense of conservative resignation is also reflected by the Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus, who abandons his trademark posture of world-weariness to plead with conservatives to focus on immigration reform before All Is Lost:

The distraction factor applies with special force to right-wing talk radio hosts, who instead of mobilizing opposition are pontificating in a daze of either overconfidence (i.e., ‘Democrats want this bill to fail’) or fatalism.You’d think Rush Limbaugh–a rare non-Fox conservative star, who understands what is at stake– might have a good deal of time to spend on the Gang of 8 bill the day before its first test vote in the Senate. You would be wrong. Rush talked mainly about the NSA …

It’s time to wake up! Conservatives–while you are (rightly) excited about NSA snooping and partisan IRS corruption, the Congress is about to change America in a more profound, permanent way right under your noses.

Mwahahaha. Now, I don’t think immigration reform will transform America. But Kaus does capture the general reality that conservatives have not generated anything like the kind of outrage on immigration reform they need to overcome their party elite’s desire to pass a bill. In particular, they have oddly failed to organize around the one chokehold they control, Boehner’s ability to keep a bipartisan bill off the floor. It’s almost as if Limbaugh and other conservative entertainers are themselves going through the motions, trying to maintain the loyalty of their own audience while failing to apply the pressure they actually need against the party leadership.