A Cantor-First Immigration Policy: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor seems to be in a real race to retain his seat in the GOP primary. His challenger, economist Dave Brat, has attacked Cantor as soft on immigration amnesty. The charge is accurate: Cantor’s actually written his own version of the DREAM Act, legalizing young undocumented immigrants. He supports the ENLIST Act--a seemingly appealing measure (limited to DREAMers who enlist in the military) that would nevertheless give the Democratic Senate a chance to push a much larger amnesty in “conference.” And he was reported to be a driving force behind including ENLIST in the defense authorization bill, which would give Harry Reid the opportunity to insert that larger amnesty in a must-pass bill.
But if Cantor isn’t principled enough to hold the line against “Legalization First” immigration reform, he’s certainly not principled enough to lose his seat over the issue. He will do whatever it takes to try to fend off Brat–and if that means tossing all forms of amnesty overboard, you’d expect him to toss all forms of amnesty overboard.
And sure enough, Cantor has now seemingly reversed himself on the inclusion of ENLIST in the Defense Authorization bill. He’s declared, in his capacity as Majority Leader, that an amendment to stick it into the defense bill will be out of order. And he opposes bringing it to the floor as a regular, stand-alone bill.
But Cantor hasn’t taken a final step that would kill ENLIST dead: Jeff Denham, the front man for the ENLIST push, says he still wants to bring it up under a “suspension of the rules”– a way the House can pass bills without a “rule” that governs floor debate. It takes a 2/3 vote to pass a bill under “suspension of the rules.” Usually the procedure is reserved for non-controversial items like awarding medals or naming interstate overpasses. If you’re paranoid enough — and if you’re not, you haven’t been paying attention — you could see the “suspension” route as a cunning way for Cantor to get to conference with the Senate on immigration while claiming that he opposed it. (After all, he declared Denham’s amendment “out of order”!)
But doesn’t Cantor control what gets on the floor of the House, even under a “suspension of the rules”? Answer: He does. He’s Majority Leader. If he wanted, he could declare that he wouldn’t allow Denham’s “suspension” vote either. Then the ENLIST Trojan Horse gambit would be dead.
That Cantor hasn’t done this seems deeply revealing. Perhaps Dave Brat should point it out.
Update: Cantor has now reneged even on his office’s promise not to bring a stand-alone bill to the floor.