Briar Patch! The Next CW on Immigration

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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You don’t have to be Hari Seldon to figure out what the next two waves of Conventional Wisdom will be regarding President Obama’s just-announced unilateral amnesty “Immigration Accountability Executive Action”:

#1) It’s a Briar Patch!  At the end of 2012 opponents of “comprehensive immigration reform” — i.e. Amnesty and Guestworkers First, Border Security Later — seemed to be in deep trouble. Republican moderates and business donors, citing the Romney debacle, were saying the party had to cave on the issue. Chuck Todd predicted 80 or 90 votes in the Senate.  But look at the posture today: The Gang of 8 “comprehensive” bill has been blocked, almost certainly for the rest of the year. When the new Congress convenes, it will vaporize. And now Obama’s executive amnesty has pretty much destroyed the possibility of passing similar legislation in 2015 and probably 2016. The executive amnesty itself is large, but could have been larger. It might very well get blocked by Congress or thrown out in court — or cancelled by the next President. Meanwhile it’s likely to trigger a backlash that could dash the hopes of building on this amnesty with other, serial amnesties, which was always the main danger.

Business interests didn’t get what they want out of the Obama decree — agricultural employers, most conspicuously, got very little, but high tech companies also don’t have much to show. No big increase in H-1B visas, for example. More generally, the Gang of 8 bill contained a doubling of legal  immigrants and guestworkers that is now not going to happen. Businesses hungry for new immigrant labor, observing the backlash against amnesty for existing illegals, will now be encouraged to pursue their own separate bills that would raise immigration levels but avoid an amnesty — at least if they want to get anywhere at all. Their fate has been split from that of their former La Raza allies. Meanwhile, the remaining (11 minus 5=6) 6 million still-illegal non-amnestied clients of immigration activists may find themselves feeling a bit lonely — rejected by voters, abandoned by the Chamber of Commerce. The most appealing cases — the DREAMer kids, the parents of American citizens — will have been taken care of. If it becomes clear that there’s no additional mass amnesty coming down the pike — certainly no additional legislative amnesty — the seemingly permanent non-legalization of the 6 Million might even eventually send a message to the countries supplying illegal immigrants that the days of U.S. amnesties are over, for a while. Obama’s decree was it.

What’s so disastrous?  Within the next week or so, the realization will settle in: Had Obama held off on his decree, John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, Bob Goodlatte, Raul Labrador and lobbyists like Haley Barbour might indeed have had another year or so to pass some smarmy, deceptive-but-far-reaching version of the Gang of 8 arrangement– with a “path to legalization,” most obviously, instead of a “path to citizenship.” They probably would have failed, but they had a shot. Now even that possibility looks dead, a casualty of the President’s embittered macho lunge for a legacy.

Obama really stuck it to his opponents. He threw us into a horrible briar patch. Ha.

2. Move On! This wave is building already (see Jeb Bush’s statement here and a truly awful GOP bumpersticker here). You can expect it to peak after the “Briar Patch” wave subsides, as Republican donors and consultants attempt to defy CW#1 and revive a Gang-of-8ish bill in 2015. Why wouldn’t they try that? It’s what they’re paid to do. And, in the case of donors, it’s what they probably think they’re owed after financing the 2014 midterm triumph. No reason to let a little Caesarism get in the way of Showing We Can Govern, they will argue. Censure — or don’t –and move on! Since the CW, by definition, always wants to move on, the pro-amnesty MSM will have little incentive to resist this line of reasoning.

One problem with Moving On is that the rollout of the latest Obama amnesty will be an ongoing story for several more months. It may well be accompanied by a not-coincidental spurt of illegals across the Southern border. There may be a some courtroom drama too, should someone get standing to challenge the presidential decree. Politicians — who are ultimately paid to perpetuate themselves in office, not to ease corporate labor hassles — may find it impossible to reanimate the Gang of 8 corpse, given the annoying and intrusive opinions of their constituents.  At least some of the Republican politicians who would be expected to lead the Move On charge are running for the party’s presidential nomination, a contest in which the embrace of any kind of amnesty is unlikely to be very popular.  Marco Rubio already may have re-irritated this electorate when he reacted to Obama’s executive action by looking past the incident to focus on the “long game” — a long game that includes, at its end, an amnesty. (“We need immigration reform. … we will eventually have to deal with those here illegally in a reasonable but responsible way.”)  Maybe Rubio was being sincere (my immigration plan also includes an amnesty at the end, after border security measures have survived the ACLU/Chamber of Commerce legal onslaught). Even if so, it was tone deaf. He’s supposed to be fighting the Battle of the Bulge and instead he’s offering a Power Point on the contours of the post-war Marshall Plan.


What happens after these two waves? If I knew, I would be rich. I’d bet on an ongoing backlash, though — and no legislative amnestying. It’s possible the House will move some discrete bills, and even possible somebody will advance a true Enforcement First alternative (though it’s inconceivable that Democrats will embrace it). Or my friends at Numbers USA might get some traction with their plans to go on offense against high legal immigration levels. Very quickly — faster, maybe, than if Obama hadn’t acted on his own — we’ll move to an environment largely shaped by the strategies and pronouncements of the presidential contenders.** Ted Cruz, in particular, has little strategic reason to do anything but attack legalization bills — at least until he is elected President, whereupon he will sell out with breathtaking speed.

One thing seems clear: We’re past the stage where we can assume that Obama’s crack team of aides have thought out all the possibilities and angles. That illusion died on a red line in Syria. They are all too fallible, and maybe not so crack. They can screw up.  Yesterday, I think, they screwed up.

On to CW #1.


** — Exception that proves the rule! The strategic needs of Bob Dole’s campaign didn’t stop Republicans from cutting a welfare reform deal with Bill Clinton in 1996. But that was because Republican Congressmen needed welfare reform to help get themselves reelected. Welfare reform, unlike immigration reform, was extremely popular.

Mickey Kaus