WASHINGTON (AFP) – Even in hopelessly divided Washington, everyone is agreed, something must be done about immigration reform — the big ticket political issue of the year.
But as often in the treacherous ways of the U.S. capital, what the power brokers say may disguise reality rather than clarify it.
“Inaction is not an option,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“This is a problem that demands addressing,” said Republican Senator John McCain Thursday.
“Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership realize that doing nothing is not an option,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer.
And Boehner himself said: “a vast majority of our members do believe that we have to wrestle with this problem.”
So does the sudden outbreak of bipartisan agreement herald a breakthrough in the stodgy political inertia?
The agreement on action to fix what everyone believes is a “broken” immigration system is more accurately a smokescreen to disguise the fact there is no consensus on exactly what to do.
A bipartisan coalition passed a massive immigration bill in the Senate, which includes a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants, and a $46 billion border security effort.
For President Barack Obama, the bill would offer a historic bauble for a second term legacy that is worryingly thin — and would honor promises that won millions of Hispanic votes in 2008 and 2012.
National Republican leaders meanwhile know that blocking immigration reform — a project dear to increasingly important Hispanic voters — could hurt in presidential elections for a generation.
That is why Republican starlet Senator Marco Rubio took the perilous decision to work for the reform bill, despite the risk of alienating the conservative grass roots.
Ironically, a majority of votes in favor of the Senate bill seems to exist in the House.
“At this moment, if votes were called for comprehensive immigration reform there are more than 218 votes,” Democratic congressman Luis Gutierrez said.
A Huffington Post analysis pointed out that if all 201 Democrats back the bill in the House, only 20 or so majority Republicans would be needed to secure passage.
But the political calculations are decisive — such a solution would likely splinter Boehner’s already tenuous hold on his restive caucus.
So the Speaker says he will not pass any immigration bill, without a majority of Republicans voting in favor — meaning around 118 members would have to back reform.
But the political logic of doing so is lost on Republicans from solidly conservative districts with few Hispanic voters, where the idea of “amnesty” is reviled.