The nature and timing of any House GOP-sponsored set of immigration reform measures is obviously going to be dependent on the outcome of the 2014 congressional elections. Therefore, an obvious point of departure is to consider what would happen if Republicans kept control of the House, but did not gain a majority in the Senate, and compare that to what would happen if, as seems possible, Republicans gained control of both the House and the Senate.

If, as expected, Republicans retain and perhaps extend their control of the House, but do not gain control of the Senate, they will be in the same somewhat vulnerable and precarious position that they are in now.

They would face a relieved and emboldened president whose party had managed to hold on to the Senate. Republicans would still control the House, but whatever legislation they passed would still have to make its way through a Democratic Senate. It is unlikely it would survive the journey intact.

In that circumstance, Bill Kristol and Richard Lowry have argued:

House Republicans may wish to pass incremental changes to the system to show that they have their own solutions, even though such legislation is very unlikely to be taken up by the Senate. Or they might not even bother, since Senate Democrats say such legislation would be dead on arrival. In any case, House Republicans should make sure not to allow a conference with the Senate bill.

Democrats of course will attempt to overpower any House bill in conference and present Republicans with a draconian choice: agree to “compromises” that are heavily weighted toward the Senate bill provisions or decline to do so, opening up Republicans to another loud round of “anti-immigrant” name calling that would doubtlessly continue up to and through the 2016 presidential election.

Even if the House did stick to Rep. Boehner’s pledge not to negotiate in conference with the Democratic Senate on bills that the House passed, it would be to the Democratic Party’s advantage to pass its own “compromise” version, as above, and send it to the House to put Republicans in the very same spot that they occupy today.

Then the Democrats’ benign-sounding, seductive pre-presidential election mantra would be: We tried to meet you (more than) half way and you weren’t even interested in bipartisan compromise. Most Americans will not be familiar enough with immigration policy to tell a real from a pseudo compromise and the heat of a presidential campaign is not the best venue in which explore the differences. Those Democratic compromises would certainly still include all the major provisions of the Senate immigration bill — including doubling the number of legal immigrants, unlimited visas from backlog cleanup, and citizenship for almost all the country’s 11.7 million illegal aliens, plus some further tweaks to immigration law enforcement.

Hence, if Republicans just retain control of the House, but do not gain control of the Senate, they would find themselves in a difficult, vulnerable situation gearing up for and going into the presidential election period.

Unless they do something about it.


Republicans are not the only ones involved in a game of “Beat the Clock”.  

Democrats and Senate immigration bill advocates have their own version, namely:

After all, the demographics of midterm elections might be a bit more favorable to the Republicans, but the demographics of presidential elections are more favorable to Democrats — and becoming better every year. Plus, the fact that Republicans killed bipartisan immigration reform in 2013 and then turned around and offered security-first legislation Hispanics found offensive in 2015 is only going to help amp up Latino turnout. And nothing shakes a political party out of its-stubbornness like losing three presidential elections in a row and watching the country’s demographics turn further toward your opponents.

The authors of that piece, liberal to their core, are certain that:

On the margin, the Democrats have the better of this argument. If immigration reform dies in 2013 it’s ridiculous to believe it’s returning in 2015. But it’s not at all ridiculous to believe it’s returning in 2017, after Scott Walker loses to Hillary Clinton with only 16 percent of the (now even larger) Latino vote.

Yes, perhaps, but that very much depends, and the Senate bill’s chief architect, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) knows it.

That understanding explains the clever, at least at first glace, plan floated by Sen. Schumer on “Meet the Press” for the House to pass immigration legislation now and have it take effect after President Obama leaves office.

Let’s enact a law this year, but simply not let it actually start till 2017, after President Obama’s term is over. Now I think the rap against him, that he won’t enforce the law is false. He’s deported more people than any other president. But you can actually have the law start in 2017 without doing much violence to it.

You simply move the date back from December 31, 2011, to December 31 2013, as to when people, the deadline for people who could get even legalization or citizenship. So we could go after the new people who come in later. And it would solve the problem.

No it wouldn’t.

And it wouldn’t stop the president from making more “administrative” policy changes that amount to changing the rules for immigration enforcement policy as he is now doing with deportations.

The chances for real immigration reform will change dramatically if the Republicans win control of the Senate as well as the House. As the Wall Street Journal has noted, “Some suggested pushing the issue to 2015, when Republicans might have control of the Senate and more leverage.”

That analysis is correct. Therefore, it makes perfectly good sense for House Republicans to await the results of the 2014 congressional elections, but not only for the reasons ordinarily given.

If Republicans gain control of the Senate, the chances for real immigration reform will dramatically increase.

As Bill Kristol and Richard Lowry understatedly put it, “If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014, they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill.”

Kristol and Lowry are even more correct than perhaps they realize.

If Republicans win control of the Senate, they will certainly have more leverage on any immigration bill that passes in the House. And in the Senate, they will have control over the movement of any legislation through that chamber and on the legislative calendar. They will have majority status on all the committees that consider immigration legislation. Committee chairs and a majority of voting members will have control over the substance of immigration legislation and its drafting. They will be able to hold hearings on specific issues of interest to them and their views of how immigration reform ought to proceed.

And the Senate majority leader can appoint Senate members to any House Senate conference committee that may be necessary, with instructions as to the nature and range of issues to be discussed.

Yet there are two other very large issues at play in the post-2014 congressional election outcome regardless of the Senate results. And they both spring from the same structural consequences of congressional elections on the legislative operation of both Houses.

The basic structural change to congressional legislation and related procedural operations is as follows, according to one of my CUNY colleagues in answer to a question I raised: “At the end of the two-year session of each Congress, all of the pending legislation (at whatever stage it is) dies. When the new Congress convenes in January 2015, the Senate would have to start from square one, with the introduction of new bills, referral to committee, etc.”

It’s worth taking a moment to think about this process given a Republican Senate majority, and given a Democratic Senate majority.

Let’s begin by assuming a more pessimistic outcome that Republicans fail to win control of the Senate. What then? Obviously, Harry Reid and his party will control the levers of legislative power noted above, including scheduling, bill drafting, the amendment process, and so on.

However, given that the Senate that convenes after the 2014 elections will be a new one, all previous bills that were not passed by both houses of the Congress, sent to the president, and signed into law begin at square one in the new 114th Congress. That includes the 2013 Senate immigration bill.

That bill will no doubt be reintroduced, and its re-passage, along party lines, would be likely. However, several things will have changed. First of all, some of the key players, if they have not changed because of electoral defeat (Lindsey Graham) are likely to change because of politics and the consequences of their support of the 2013 Senate immigration bill (Marco Rubio).

Second, the long, slow defeat of the Senate bill in the House has had several consequences, among them the fact that the public has had time to learn and digest the details of the Senate bill, altering the shape of the narrative debates. Many more people now realize, for example, that saying illegal migrants will “pay back taxes” as part of balancing an amnesty is a misleading rhetorical point, and known to be so. It is not a truthful statement.

And third, some members of the Senate itself may have learned something about the immigration bill that few, if any, of them read carefully, yet passed.


 Mr. Renshon has been a Center Fellow since 1999 and an expert in the areas of citizenship, national identity and the psychology of immigration. He has testified before Congress several times on these matters and has assisted government net assessments in these areas.

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization. Since our founding in 1985, we have pursued a single mission – providing immigration policymakers, the academic community, news media, and concerned citizens with reliable information about the social, economic, environmental, security, and fiscal consequences of legal and illegal immigration into the United States.