Krauthammer gives up at halftime

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Strange Charles Krauthammer column this morning. He notes (as have others) that the Obama amnesty plan and the Rubio/McCain amnesty plan are the same in their essential feature, which is instant legalization of the reported 11 million immigrants currently here illegally. Then he outlines a sensible Republican alternative that would also hold out the promise of an amnesty while at least creating the possibility that it would be the last:

“The better policy would be enforcement first, followed by amnesty. Yes, amnesty. But only when we have ensured that these 11 million constitute the last cohort.

“How to ensure that? With three obvious enforcement measures: (a) a universal E-Verify system by which employers must check the legal status of all their hires; (b) an effective system for tracking those who have overstayed their visas; and (c) closure of the southern border, mainly with the kind of triple fence that has proved so successful near San Diego.

“If legalization would go into effect only when these conditions are met, there would be overwhelming bipartisan pressure to get enforcement done as quickly as possible.”

Then Krauthammer takes his potential breakthrough plan and … throws it all away, claiming, “Regrettably, there appears to be zero political will to undertake this kind of definitive solution.” He winds up semi-endorsing the Rubio/McCain scheme, wrapping himself in the fig leaf it offers: That even if legalization is instant, those legalized won’t be getting “green cards” and citizenship until some enforcement targets are met.

A few obvious questions:

1) Why is there “zero political will”? Has Krauthammer forgotten about the House? Why is he suddenly in awe of President Obama’s ability to mobilize public pressure on Speaker Boehner to bring an across-the-board amnesty bill to the floor when Boehner’s caucus prefers a step-by-step (Dream Act + high-tech visas, etc.) approach? I’m reminded of the 2007 amnesty debate, when a Beltwayish pessimism gripped conservatives–‘There’s going to be a bill,’ they told themselves. ‘We might as well make it as conservative a bill as possible.’ But there wasn’t necessarily going to be a bill. The bill could be stopped–and it was stopped, by an outside-the-Beltway outcry. “Moving the bill to the right” only made beating it a bit more difficult.

That’s the alternative Krauthammer misses: If there’s “zero political will” for his (rightly) preferred solution now, there might be if the current amnesty-first push fails again. Granted, it won’t be as easy to stop it this time, given GOP-elite hysteria over the Latino vote. But last time it failed to even get a majority for cloture in the Senate. This time it will be closer–but Krauthammer is throwing in the towel when the game is tied at the half. (And of course, by rationalizing the Rubio bill, he makes it a little bit more likely the game will be lost.)

2) If Democrats “have little real interest in border enforcement,” what makes Krauthammer think they are going to change if the Rubio bill passes? Isn’t it more likely that, as newly legalized former illegal immigrants agitate for green cards, the enforcement requirement will be relaxed? In any case, the “trigger” that must be met in Rubio’s bill is bogus anyway, involving the classic DC make-believe play,

 a commission of Southwestern governors and other state leaders who, according to senators working on the bill, would likely be limited to an advisory role.

Krauthammer criticizes Obama’s flimsy enforcement promises as “mere gestures” but somehow looks past Rubio’s.

3) Does Krauthammer actually think Obama is going to win back the House for the Dems in 2014–an off year election when Latino turnout typically declines–by “flogging” Republicans for failing to pass his version of immigration reform (as opposed to whatever piecemeal reforms the GOP supports)? Here even the Beltway CW says “Don’t worry.” 

4) Obama seems to think Sen. Rubio is nobly trying to get the toughest enforcement deal possible, given the push for amnesty. Really? Others (e.g. me, TIME) think Rubio is effectively leading the push for amnesty by rendering it minimally palatable to Republicans. Evidence: Would someone who cares about enforcement really have picked Cesar Conda–who as a veteran of the McCain and Abraham staffs has not exactly been a champion of enforcement over legalization–as his chief of staff? (The third possibility, of course, is that Rubio is idealistic but pathetically naive, even about his own chief of staff. Seems unlikely, though Mark Krikorian raises the possibility in this post.)

When the Obama administration leaked some details of its own immigration plan, there was some cynical speculation it was designed to con Republicans into thinking Rubio’s near-identical scheme was somehow preferable. Indeed, the move was “so transparent that observers both on the left and on the right” were “mocking it.” But it looks it worked on Krauthammer.

Mickey Kaus