Last week, after the seeming pause in the fight over the immigration bill, a number of people wrote that the delay in the immigration bill was either good or bad for John McCain. Now it seems likely that the immigration bill will pass the Senate, as Rep. Tom Cole indicated at the NRCC/Heritage blogger lunch. This issue will continue to have a profound impact on the GOP primary.
Let’s just be clear about the timeline, assuming that the bill passes:
- The Senate votes this week or next.
- The House writes a bill in July and holds floor debate in September, at the earliest. Pelosi has indicated, in CQ, that this may not start until September.
- The bill goes to conference in September and either comes out in October (unlikely) or in 2008.
- The final vote, and the President’s signature with a big ceremony, occurs in 2008. Question: will this occur before or after Feb. 5th? Note that Pelosi and Reid will get to make the timing decision.
The upshot is that the GOP candidates are going to get drilled on this through the primary season. It is clear what they would all like. After all, just one year ago, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee all expressed support for solutions to the Senate bill. Only John McCain and Sam Brownback have had the courage of their convictions. The GOP candidates want to rail against the bill and have it pass.Then they get their private policy preference and an issue.
But this means that the issue of "amnesty" will be live in the primary, but probably be off the table in the general. The general will probably focus on implementing border security.
Of course, the other option is that they go to conference and it never comes out, with Pelosi and Reid hoping for a Democratic President and more Democratic Senate. But Congress already has lower ratings than the GOP Congress, and they cannot afford a "do nothing" label being applied to them. And under the right circumstances, the GOP might just get the House back, and the Dems won’t get the bill they want.