Obama, Democrats To Push Immigration Reform Next?

Immigration reform may be the next big battle on Capitol Hill, but it's going to be far different from the one that just concluded.

illegal immigrants

With the shutdown/debt ceiling debate behind them, and most observers and the polls seemingly agreeing that it ended up being a net political win, President Obama and the Democrats are apparently looking to push immigration reform as the next big legislative battle:

As the fiscal crisis subsided and the government went back to work this week, President Obama and other leading Democrats were quick to say that an immigration overhaul should be back on the agenda in Congress.

Mr. Obama raised the issue in his first comments after lawmakers reached a deal to reopen the government, and on the night the shutdown ended the three top Senate Democrats said they hoped to extend the bipartisan moment that produced the compromise by taking up immigration.

“Let’s move on,” said the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. He added that he hoped “the next venture is making sure we do immigration reform.”

But the possibilities for progress on the issue will be determined in the House of Representatives, where many conservative Republicans are fuming with frustration over their meager gains from the two-week shutdown and turning their ire against Mr. Obama, saying he failed to negotiate with them. It will be up to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to discern whether relations with the White House are simply too raw for House Republicans to consider legislation on an issue the president has made a priority.

Many Democrats and some Republicans are arguing that passing a broad immigration bill could be a way for Republicans to come back from the bruising they took in the polls during the shutdown. “When the Republican polling numbers are at 20 percent, there’s a pretty strong argument to do something to get those poll numbers up, and immigration is a good way to do that,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

The effort to repair the immigration system has attracted support across the political spectrum, including from traditional Republican allies like business, agriculture and evangelical Christians. The Senate passed a sweeping bill in June on a bipartisan vote. But lawmakers on both sides agreed that the window for action on immigration is narrow, most likely limited to the remaining months of this year, before the next fiscal deadlines, or maybe to early next spring.

Mr. Boehner would like to make progress this year on immigration, a spokesman said Friday. “The speaker remains committed to a step-by-step process to fix our broken immigration system,” said the spokesman, Michael Steel.

But House Republican leaders are waiting to gauge the intensity of distrust of the White House among fractious conservatives in their caucus.

“The president’s attitude and actions over the past few weeks have certainly made getting anything done on immigration considerably harder,” a senior Republican aide said.

Several Republicans who had been working on immigration bills before the shutdown said they no longer believed Mr. Obama would negotiate fairly.

“I think what he has done over the last two and a half weeks, he’s tried to destroy the Republican Party,” Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, said Wednesday. “I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican Party and not to get good policies.”

If the House takes any action, it will probably be on smaller measures that emerged earlier this year from the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees. The Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, approved four bills that deal with enforcement, agricultural guest workers and high-skilled visas. A homeland security bill would tighten border security.

Republican lawmakers, including Mr. Goodlatte and Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, have been working on a bill to give legal status to young immigrants who came here illegally as children. But no bill has been introduced and no decisions have been made on who would introduce it, Republican aides said Friday.

House Democrats predicted Republicans would be spurred on by an interest in showing skeptical voters that they can produce results.

As noted, President Obama spoke about this even before the shutdown showdown was over:

President Obama says he hasn’t given up on an immigration bill, and will push it after the government shutdown and debt ceiling disputes are resolved.

“Once that’s done — you know, the day after — I’m going to be pushing (Congress) to say, call a vote on immigration reform,” Obama told the Los Angeles affiliate of Univision, the Spanish language television network.

Obama’s immigration hopes figure to continue hitting opposition in the Republican-run House, where members describe a proposed path to citizenship as amnesty for lawbreakers.

The Senate passed an immigration bill earlier this year, but the House has not voted.

As he has during shutdown and debt ceiling impasses, Obama placed the blame on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“We had a very strong Democratic and Republican vote in the Senate,” Obama told Univision. “The only thing right now that’s holding it back is, again, Speaker Boehner not willing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives.”

The reality, of course, is that immigration reform pretty much died after that Senate vote. The House hasn’t taken the bill up at all, and the proposals that are being tossed around at the Committee level don’t match the Senate bill in any significant respect, not the least because they don’t take the comprehensive approach that the Senate bill does but instead approach the issue in a piecemeal fashion. Even before the Senate vote, though, it was clear that any kind of immigration reform that was going to make it through the House would be far less than what the Senate wanted, and likely wouldn’t include much of anything to address the status of the 11 million or so people who are in the country illegally. Instead, House Republicans appear to be looking at things like “border security” and measures that deal with the issue of the children of people who are in the country illegally, which falls far short of what President Obama and those Senate Republicans who did support the Senate bill are aiming for.

Evidently, Democrats and the White House are counting on the momentum of their recent “victory” in the shutdown showdown to give them some kind of momentum on the immigration front. It’s far from self-evident, though, that such momentum actually exists, or that it would be at all easy to force Republicans in the House to bend on an issue where, at least in some respects, polling shows the public almost equally divided. Republicans, who are already saying that the Obama Administration would be foolish to believe that they can push anything resembling the Senate bill through the House, seem unlikely to bend on an issue like this unless there’s something in it for them. Additionally, while Speaker Boehner has made it clear that he would like to pass an immigration bill this year, it strikes me as unlikely that he would be willing to put his weight behind something that is strongly opposed by his caucus, especially after the manner in which the shutdown showdown ended. It’s one thing to push a bill that even the people who opposed it agreed was necessary to prevent financial panic and electoral disaster. It’s quite another to try to push through a bill that many Republicans see as little more than a Democratic wish list.

Of course, there may well be a political motive behind the President’s decision to try to shift to focus to immigration even if it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to succeed. One of the many reasons that President Obama did so well in the 2012 elections is because he garnered an amazingly high 71% of the Latino vote. We’ve noted here before the fact that this vote is only going to become more and more important in the years to come, but that’s only going to be true to the extent that Latino vote actually comes out. Historically, this is a voting demographic that votes in lower percentages than most others, which in part means that we really haven’t felt the true impact of their growing clout in many parts of the country. If Democrats can keep immigration at the top of the political agenda heading into 2014, then that could make a difference in the House and Senate races coming up next years.

As a policy matter, I tend to support something resembling the Senate immigration bill. Among other things, it seems to deal with the reality of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in a realistic and humane manner while at the same time avoiding the problem of providing such people with an advantage over people who have been standing in line to gain resident alien status legally. Additionally, it addresses the long un-addressed issue of migrant farm workers and guest workers, which is something that we’ve needed to deal with for a long time now. Finally,  I agree that it makes far more sense to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner than the piecemeal manner in which House Republicans wish to. That said, however, I don’t think the President or the Senate should let the perfect (and the Senate bill is far from perfect to begin with) be the enemy of the good on an issue like this. If the House can come up with a number of piecemeal bills that fix specific aspects of the system, then those bills ought to be considered and perhaps enacted into law. It would be a compromise, but given that these same legislators are also going to be spending the next three months trying to hammer out a budget, it strikes me that another partisan political fight on Capitol Hill isn’t really going to help things. It’s been quite some time since we’ve addressed immigration at all in this country, the last comprehensive effort was all the way back in 1986, and getting something seems to me to be far better than getting nothing at all.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Blue sHARK says:

    …The Republicans can fight reform and lose or join in and lose.

    …I think this is the perfect time to push for Immigration Reform … Just in time for the midterms next year.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    There’s a lot of room for growth in the Latino vote and Obama’s finally figured out how to play with the bigot party. So let’s absolutely do immigration. And let’s get the GOP plan for entitlement reform. Then the GOP can explain why the 1% that already owns 40% of the nation’s wealth needs another tax cut.

  3. Jr says:

    It is a win/win for Democrats by pushing Immigration reform.

    We can pass a strong immigration reform bill which the country needs or the GOP can be dumb and squash it and fire up Latino voters just in time for the mid-terms.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    It days past, it seemed as if Republicans had most of the advantages when it came to wedge issues…how times change…

  5. superdestroyer says:

    I guess “sane Republican” is now defined as one who is willing to commit demographic suicide along with paying higher taxes, higher private school tuition, higher insurance premiums, higher housing costs while receiving lower wages.

    I guess after the Republicans made themselves irrelevant to policy or governance in the U.S., the Democrats are getting ready to put the final nail in the coffin of multi-party politics in the U.S.

  6. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Now we get to see Republicans advocate for openly
    nativist and bigoted positions, as opposed to advocating for positions that are merely subtly influenced by nativism/bigotry.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @Rusty Shackleford:

    So the Republicans should throw their own children and most of their own supporters under the bus so that progressives will not call them names. I thought politics was suppose to be about convincing people that one’s idea are better but progressives seem to believe that bullying people by calling them names works better. Can we at least agree that pro-nativist policies would probably be better for most Republican voters.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    I thought politics was suppose to be about convincing people that one’s idea are better…

    Oh indeed, and this latest turn of events will allow Republicans to convince people, particularly Hispanic Americans, how GOP ideas are better…and your whining about “bullying” people is just so precious…

  9. Grumpy Realist says:

    This really is a brilliant strategy. The Republicans can act sensibly and moderately and possibly get a portion of the Hispanic population to vote for them again. Or they can indulge the crazies and lose the Hispanic population by an even bigger percentage next time.
    If the Republican Party wants to get African-Americans and Hispanics to vote for them, they might consider not insulting them for voting for the other side.

  10. Woody says:

    Evidently, Democrats and the White House are counting on the momentum of their recent “victory” in the shutdown showdown to give them some kind of momentum on the immigration front.

    First off, “victory” should not be in quotes when used in this way. Americans (all) lost $24 billion; but the GOP lost the battle.

    Secondly, your well-written next paragraph provides the reason that the Democrats are promoting immigration reform now. One should remember that everything does not reset to zero after an election – instead, a narrative is built over time. The GOP’s success was constructed on a decade’s worth of narratives and symbolic votes in the 70s and 80s. The Republican Party has shown an appreciable ability to be led by their most fervent faction.

    The President continues to be politically underestimated.

  11. bill says:

    sometimes i forget, it’s all about the votes….screw the people who are waiting in line (legally) for their shot at at getting citizenship. reward the losers who are here for a free ride, some things never change with democrats. so what happens when everyone’s on the dole, just keep pushing the debt back a few generations so they can deal with it? last i checked, we don’t want to be europe…..their history of violence d deal with poor choices is quite apparent.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    @Bill: Oh spare us all the tears…it certainly is all about the votes…that is why so many people who have no business getting farm subsidies routinely feed at the government trough…that is why laws are passed to try to restrict minorities and the poor from voting because we have to make sure to only let the right people vote, er, stop “voter fraud”…that is why there is so much gridlock in Washington because God forbid that any Republican should dare to compromise with the black man in the Oval Office…a lot of people are getting screwed because it is all about the votes…oh, and who’s going to send all those “losers” back to where they came from? You? And the weeping and gnashing of teeth from you and your fellow travelers about debt would be so much more credible if you had been doing the same thing when Republicans were in the White House running up debt…

  13. superdestroyer says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    The last time the Republicans (under Reagan) passed amnesty, the portion of the population that voted for them went down. The Republicans in California passed amnesty in the 1980’s in pursuit of cheap labor and now California is a one party state.

    If President Obama has a signing ceremony for comprehensive immigraiton reform surrounded by liberal Latino and black Democrats, the Republicans will receiving a smaller percentage of the Latino voice.

    As long as affirmative action, quotas, and set asides exist in the U.S., it is insane for a conservative party to support the current levels of third world immigration, let alone supporting a massive increase.

  14. Grumpy Realist says:

    @superdestroyer: So what do you suggest to deal with the large illegal population? Take them out and shoot them?

    My own experience of dealing with immigration is that it is a horribly dysfunctional system with bureaucrats who wouldn’t have the smarts to make it anywhere else. People want to immigrate to the US. We also have tons of people here who either snuck in or overstayed their visas. How to fix?

    And continuing to kick the can down the road isn’t going to help. Too many kids who simply can’t prove where they were born.

  15. bill says:

    @An Interested Party: funny, who’s going to pick the crops at the subsidized farms if they’re all on the public dole? and why should those who’ve been going through the motions to get “legal” even bother anymore?
    extra points for throwing the race card there- and the dreaded “voter suppression” (hillary would be proud- that’s her whole campaign so far) like obama isn’t an oreo himself already!
    you really have an issue with rising debt, and you support the guy who said our debt was “un-American” back when he was just a measly senator!?

    the “losers” are the ones that aren’t working, just waiting for the legal free ride to start. they make the hard workers look bad, as is the case with every ethnicity in the US.

    I don’t weep, nor gnash teeth about the idiocy of this- it’s been going too long and and doesn’t surprise me. are you one of those that watches foxnews and yells at the tv?!

  16. An Interested Party says:

    @Bill: Why do you assume that once illegal immigrants acquire citizenship that they are going to be on the public dole? No need to mention race cards as that is a racist assumption…Obama is an “Oreo”? See, it really doesn’t work to write racist things and then throw out the race card as some kind of get-out-of jail card…you’re the one writing the bigoted things…own them…as for the debt mess, it must surprise you, as you and people like you only seem to notice it when a Democrat is in the White House…

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    so how does it benefit the Republicans and the core blocks who actually vote for Republicans to commit demographic suicide because people in the third world want to immigrate to the U.S.

    How does it benefit the middle class whites who are base of the Republican Party to import millions of third world immigrants who will all pay little in taxes, who be elligible for affirmative action, and whose children will need remedial education.

    Once again, what is in it for the Republicans to vote for their own demographic extinction. It makes political and economic sense for Democrats to want to import millions more automatic Democratic voters who will not only support their party but will create more demand for public sector employees such as remedial education teachers, social workers, and local law enforcement.

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ bill

    I don’t weep, nor gnash teeth

    Perhaps not, but you whine incessantly.

  19. Rob in CT says:

    There is a good case against overly liberal immigration policies. I’m persuaded that any immigration reform effort should be aimed at reducing the total # of low-wage immigrants. More legal, but much fewer illegal should be the goal. The bill the Senate passed a while back didn’t do that (IIRC, the CBO analysis concluded that while the # of illegal immigrants would drop, the total impact was about +1 million extra immigrants/yr, and I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of that increase would be low-wage). While the overall economic impact looks to be neutral or even good, we shouldn’t overlook distributional effects. I think it’s likely that the hit the folks at the bottom of the income ladder have taken over the past 40 years has immigration as one of its causes (though I rank it behind globalization and changes to tax policy). And I think we all know how likely it is that we’re going to make changes to tax and benefit policies that result in a strong shift in wealth downward (the recent small income tax increase + the PPACA are not what I mean by strong. I mean something that could actually counteract the beating the working class has taken over the past four decades).

    It’s difficult to make the case against the reform as currently designed, particularly for the GOP, because it’s so easily tied to nativism/bigotry. And the truth is there are a lot of nativists and bigots in the GOP coalition (and some still in the Dem coalition) and they’re loud about it (or perhaps just easy to pick out if you want).

    We shouldn’t like something just because the wrong people hate it. We all know where that leads: stupidity.

    For what it’s worth, here is the non-bigotted case against:


    Again, this is about the specific Senate bill. The immigration system clearly does need reform, so “do nothing” is a bad answer. The Senate bill may be “do something” but it’s got problems, IMO.

  20. al-Ameda says:


    last i checked, we don’t want to be europe…..their history of violence d deal with poor choices is quite apparent.

    Last I checked, with respect to immigration policies, American conservatives would definitely like to emulate Europe. Most European countries have very tough immigration policies and do far better than we do in regulating their immigration. But hey, “freedom fries,” right?

  21. Lenoxus says:

    @bill: Somewhere in that garbled mess I thought I detected a racist-worded assertion that suppresion of minority votes cannot be a problem if the President is himself a minority. WTF.