Regarding Bill Kristol’s immigration reform comments…

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As you might have heard, Bill Kristol is telling Sen. Marco Rubio to bail on the immigration bill. As Politico reported, “He should walk away from it,’ Kristol said Tuesday on ‘The Laura Ingraham Show.’ ‘He should say, I made a good faith effort, but you know what, this is not a piece of legislation.'”

While there is a plausible theory that Rubio could gain politically from doing this (within the GOP base), Kristol’s reasons for suddenly telling him to walk away are puzzling.

He said immigration reform should be done issue by issue, rather than in a comprehensive bill. That’s an interesting idea, but it won’t work. The only way immigration reform can actually pass the Democratic-controlled senate is for a bill to obviously have bipartisan support. As Sen. Jeff Flake told me, the only way to get the border security conservatives want is to tie it in to other things Democrats want. In other words, the bill has to be comprehensive. (This might sound unseemly, but it’s also called politics.)

“I’m a liberal, as you know, on immigration reform. I was more liberal than you were,” Kristol reportedly told Ingraham, “I think, in ’06, ’07. I’ve got to say, I couldn’t vote for this bill.” This is also curious, inasmuch as the current bill, by virtue of Rubio and Flake’s involvement, is generally thought to be more conservative than the ’07 bill. So why was he ostensibly for immigration reform back then, but opposed to this bill?

Kristol suggested he would prefer to wait until there was a Republican president to pass a bill. How nice. And then, we can reverse rolls and have Democrats drag their feet, in an attempt to deprive Republicans of a victory (remember it was Byron Dorgan’s poison pill — supported by then-Sen. Obama — that killed immigration reform in ’07.)  Of course, there’s no guarantee Republicans will be in a better position in a few years (though history suggests they might.)

If it is the implementation he’s worried about, then supporting immigration reform back in 2007 — when a Republican held the White House — was arguably the worst time to pass a bill (as it was on the eve of Obama’s election.) Obama won’t be president forever. We very well could soon have a President Rubio or Christie or Jindal or… whomever to enforce the law. In that regard, the timing is good.

In any event, it just seems like Kristol has decided not to support anything as long as Obama is in office. The scandals — the perception that Obama is weak and thus, should be deprived of any victories — might have something to do with that.

But who pays the price for delay? The status quo is untenable — much worse than even an imperfect bill, inasmuch as it’s de facto amnesty. And, of course, Republicans will pay politically — especially if it were obvious they killed the bill.

And forget the “let’s get em next time” mentality. It’s not like you can just kill this bill, destroy what little good faith there is across the aisle, and then snap your fingers and expect to pass immigration reform when you hold more cards. What’s in it for the other guy?

Ultimately, it seems like Kristol is in favor of immigration reform, but only theoretically. He’s in favor of it in a magical world where Republicans control everything and don’t need any Democrats to buy in. But as soon as there is a chance a realistic bill could actually pass, he reverts back to the fears of all the things that might go wrong. And this is why it’s so hard to pull this off. The default position — the safe position for conservative pundits — is always to torpedo immigration reform. And so it continues.

Matt K. Lewis