Boehner in the Hot Seat
Immigration reform advocates were justifiably excited when the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that strengthen the security of U.S. borders and establishes a lengthy — some would say arduous — path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
The Senate margin was 68-32, which in these polarized political times is pretty good. The thinking was that the higher the vote margin in the Senate, the more likely it will be that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would have to bow to public pressure and pass some kind of reform as well. Well, don’t hold your breath.
In the old days, like the 1990’s, you could bring political pressure to bear from the middle of the political spectrum to force results. For example: the welfare reform effort in the mid-1990’s that eventually passed because President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich were able to find common ground and win the support of moderates from both parties.
It’s much more difficult today. Just ask the current House speaker, John Boehner. Boehner has already said the House will do immigration reform in its own way, basically ignoring what just happened in the Senate. Boehner also says the House will likely only consider a measure that has support from a majority of House Republicans, which right away cedes a lot of power to the activist conservative wing of the House Republican caucus.
Boehner has little choice. It would be politically risky for him to try to pass something that draws mainly Democratic votes in the House with massive defections among his own Republican caucus. In fact, his job as speaker could be on the line. It’s no secret that a number of younger, aggressively conservative House Republicans would like to replace the current speaker at some point with one of their own. Caving to outside pressures to pass an immigration bill would anger conservatives and could be the spark that would put Boehner’s job in jeopardy.
Obama’s Return to Reality
After a whirlwind Africa trip, President Barack Obama returns to Washington and some unpleasant political realities. The administration remains on the defensive over leaks about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Europeans are upset that they were reportedly targeted, so now the president has his hands full with critics abroad and angry civil libertarians at home.
The Internal Revenue Service scandal has been somewhat muted in recent days, but you can expect Republicans will stoke that fire when they return from congressional recess after the Fourth of July holiday.
The administration continues to hope that improving economic news will blunt the impact of some of the other controversies. But it does seem as though an early onset of “second-term-itis” is already setting in, with Republicans eager to pounce and try to improve their prospects for next year’s midterm congressional elections.
History shows that the second midterm congressional elections for two-term presidents are usually rough. It’s often a question of whether the president’s party can limit the damage. But in this case, with the right driven by the IRS scandal and some Democrats likely to sit home next year rather than get out and vote, Republicans smell some pickups in the Senate and maybe even in the House.
Recent opinion polls show the president’s approval rating down a bit, but not dangerously so. Last month’s ABC News-Washington Post poll had Mr. Obama’s approval rating at 53 percent, with 44 percent disapproving. That’s down from 60 percent approval back in January. A scan of other recent national polls show the president treading water—about equal numbers of Americans approve of his job performance as disapprove. Something to build on, perhaps, in the months ahead. But if there are further policy setbacks or scandal revelations, also room for his ratings to plummet.