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Immigration and the Poisoned Well

It was the summer of ’13, and all the talk was of immigration reform. Good heavens, the Senate even passed a piece of comprehensive reform legislation! And then the measure went to the House, where members got right down to work . . . by ignoring it for a month, then going on vacation for another month, then coming back to contemplate bombing Syria, then deciding to shut down the government as an example of legislative autoerotic asphyxiation gone horribly wrong.

But all that is over now! Things of the past, just like grunge rock and Everybody Loves Raymond. We can move back to immigration reform now, right? 

Except for one tiny problem: President Obama wants it. Typically, that means that under no circumstances can it happen.

We’re witnessing the exact same thing that happened to the immigration reform push of 2010 — one that got considerably far less down the line than this current effort. The basic idea is that immigration reform can’t happen whenever Obama starts being too mean to Republicans. Or, to use the Beltway term of choice, when Obama “poisons the well.”

In 2010, after Democrats passed health care reform, Senator Lindsey Graham — the pro-immigration reform GOP point man when these things come up —declared immigration reform dead because of how the Democrats had comported themselves on that other issue.

Immigration reform legislation is “dead” in the Senate this year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday.

Graham, who’s sought to work with some Democrats on the controversial issues, said that healthcare efforts had “poisoned the well” for bipartisan cooperation going forward.

“When I say immigration’s dead in the Senate, risk-aversion abounds,” Graham said during a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday. “Some of my colleagues will lose over healthcare. The consequences of this vote are going to be long-lasting politically.”

And so it was, in fact, dead.

Now you’re all smart readers, and, despite the way he acts sometimes, Lindsey Graham is no dummy. Doesn’t it seem as though Graham was grasping for something here, an excuse, perhaps, for Republicans to use to avoid working on immigration reform before the 2010 midterms, when his party was relying on the “fired up” right wing base to turn out in huge numbers? (As they would eventually do.)

Now we’re over four years later, with another series of midterms coming up in which the GOP will rely on the very same demographic to turn out and perhaps even push the GOP into control of the Senate. And again, we’re hearing talk about that oft poisoned well. From Politico:

Other prominent immigration supporters like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have also backed off any deal, saying the Obama administration has “undermined” negotiations by not defunding his signature health care law. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) went further, saying Obama is trying to “destroy the Republican Party” and that GOP leaders would be “crazy” to enter into talks with Obama.

That rhetoric combined with signals in private conversations with lawmakers and staff has led some immigration advocates to say they see the writing on the wall and they aren’t going to invest heavily until there’s more momentum.

“After Obama poisoned the well in the fiscal showdown and [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi now is actively trying to use immigration as a political weapon, the chances for substantive reforms, unfortunately, seem all but gone,” said one GOP operative involved in the conservative pro-immigration movement.

Yes, reader, that is two prominent GOP immigration point men and one standard anonymous GOP hack saying that Republicans don’t want to participate in immigration reform negotiations anymore because they shut down the government and Obama was really mean by defeating them.

Marco Rubio is also not a moron, and you’ve got to applaud him for this meticulous, months-long plan to serve himself. He wrote the immigration bill, more or less, that the Senate passed. Whoops, the Republican base didn’t like him for that! So he became one of the main GOP instigators of this plan to shutdown the government over the defunding of Obamacare, knowing that Obama would never agree to that. Now that that’s over, with the expected results, he has an excuse to walk away from his own legislation: that the well is too poisoned to continue, thanks to Obama.

It’s a stupid excuse, so it will probably work.