Congressional Dems Say No Immigration Bill Any Time Soon

It only takes a few minutes for the convention wisdom to congeal here in Washington. And that was true last weekend after Arizona passed its tough (some would say draconian) immigration law.

The CW materialized with a boost from conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and progressives in and close to the Latino community. It was this: that the Democratic-controlled Congress would use the Arizona opening to undercut Republicans with Hispanic voters by promptly crafting an immigration bill and bringing it to the floor.

Um, no. I was just told by an authoritative source in the Democratic Senate leadership that there is no way they will move to an immigration bill before July—and it's unlikely even then. They may not get to it at all before they adjourn (around Oct. 1) for the midterm elections, and could consider it after the election in a lame-duck session.

Or not.

The House, also controlled by the Democrats, has historically been far less eager to deal with the immigration issue. I was just told by an authoritative House source that they will not take up the bill unless and until the Senate passes onewhich, in the House, they take to mean not this year at all. 

Query: will what is almost certain to be a more Republican Congress next year want to take up immigration then?

So what this means is twofold: that immigration is both the most tantalizing and the most dangerous demographic political issue on the American horizon. There now are 45 million Hispanics in America, 10 million to 11 million of whom have no legal permission to be here. The Hispanic vote is rising in importance, but there is still 9 percent unemployment (12 percent among Latinos) and citizen-workers feel under siege.

Which in turn means that President Obama will try to extract whatever political mileage he can out of the Arizona law by decrying it rhetorically and perhaps by encouraging his Justice Department to file a lawsuit against it, or encourage a suit.

But while he and his party denounce the Republicans of Arizona, they are in no hurry to consider a sweeping reform law that they know could blow up in their faces.

In the short run, the Dems could gain this year in a few Southwestern House and Senate races by stoking anti-Arizona anger. Even Republicans concede that, in the long term, the GOP cannot afford to risk being seen as anti-Latino.

But that doesn't mean the Democrats will have the cojones to take this on now. For one thing, there are way too many shaky Democrats in red districts or states—the 48 of them who represent districts John McCain won chief among them.

Having voted for the stimulus bill, and the auto bailouts, and perhaps the health-care bill, those vulnerable Democrats would be itching to vote against an immigration bill that offered a "route to citizenship" for millions of undocumented workers because they would be signing their political death warrant if they voted yes.

There are other factors. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was famous, when he was in the House, for warning Dems away from the immigration issue. And there is neither a bill being drafted in the White House nor a honcho designated to do so—let alone push it through the Senate.

At this point, it's a lot of Arizona hot air.