Immigration's Communications Conundrum

(Bloomberg View) -- What's going to happen in the Senate on immigration? As per his promise in January, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bringing the issue to the Senate floor this week. The plan is to let every plan come to the floor, and whatever can get 60 votes will become the Senate bill. 

Veteran Democratic Hill staffer Adam Jentleson speculates that McConnell's play is to work hard to keep Republicans from supporting any bill that has a chance at bipartisan support, then blame Democrats for sinking the bill when they vote against President Donald Trump's proposal, which would severely diminish legal immigration. If so, Republicans will get a harvest of votes to hold against vulnerable Democratic senators in November; Republicans can, I suppose, continue their far-fetched claim that it was the Democrats who betrayed the Dreamers; and McConnell can claim to have fulfilled his promise. Democrats would still have the option of filibustering against the full-year appropriations bill when the current temporary measure expires in March, but given that they would have demonstrated they don't have the votes to pass anything, Democrats would find it extremely difficult to sustain a filibuster to close the government. 

That's a plausible strategy.

It's also possible that a compromise bill might reach 60 votes after all. That's not so bad for McConnell, either, because it shifts the pressure from him to Speaker Paul Ryan and Republicans in the House of Representatives. The approach that seems most likely to succeed in the Senate would parallel a compromise bill in the House by Texas Republican Will Hurd and California Democrat Pete Aguilar, which already has 54 co-sponsors equally split between the parties. Could a Senate version get to 60, with or without McConnell actively working against it? No one seems to know. 

The minority party in the Senate has multiple ways to force a vote on a bill. The minority party in the House has almost none. That's great for the majority party ... and not so great for a speaker when he's refusing a vote on a popular compromise bill with the votes to pass if it had the opportunity but is so strongly opposed by a chunk of the majority party that it could cost the speaker his job if he allows a vote. I have no idea how McConnell and Republican senators feel about Paul Ryan. But Ryan has jammed the Senate multiple times (on taxes, the budget and most significantly on health-care reform) by passing something through the House that was popular among Republicans but didn't have the votes in the Senate. It wouldn't shock me if McConnell wasn't tempted to return the favor. 

Even in this age of intense partisanship in Congress, it's still often the case that the parties don't communicate very well across the two chambers. And no one, of course, can control what might come out of the Oval Office or coordinate in advance with whatever it might be. All of which means there's at least some uncertainty going forward about what will actually happen this week. 

1. Molly Reynolds on what we learned from the budget deal

2. Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction looks at what a fundamentals model may forecast for the 2018 midterms

3. Dan Drezner on Mike Pence at the Olympics

4. Julian Sanchez on why it's unsettling that Rachel Brand is leaving the Justice Department. 

5. I agree with Jonathan Chait: Large federal government deficits are a consistent Paul Ryan preference that Trump has signed on for, not the other way around. 

6. My Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox on crime.

7. And Slate's Rachelle Hampton speaks with Richard J. Powell about the Obama portraits. My view is that any excuse to drop by the National Portrait Gallery is a good one, and I'm hoping I get a chance next time I'm in Washington. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at

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