'The Issue not the Bill'

When I was a reporter in Kentucky years ago they had a standard saying in the legislature about a grandstanding member who'd be talking on the floor but not pushing for a vote: so and so "would rather have the issue than the bill."

That's the approximate position most Democrats are in right now on immigration reform: they'd rather have the issue than the bill. Their aim is to focus the ire of Latino voters—and people generally concerned about civil liberties—on the harsh Arizona law, and make Republicans defend the party leaders who enacted it.

Sen. Harry Reid confirmed today what I reported yesterday—that the Senate will move to energy and environment legislation before immigration. But that was only half the story. The Senate isn't going to go to immigration legislation AFTER energy either, and most of Reid's colleagues are not at all unhappy about it.

After sending mixed signals about all of this last weekend, Senate leadership sources, made clear to me on Monday, cited a whole laundry list of issues—food safety, small businesses, supplemental spending bills on Iraq and Afghanistan, the budget, a labor bill firefighters want,  a bill on campaign spending—all of those and more will precede any consideration of immigration in the Senate.

Reid wants to be seen working on a bill as a sales point with the crucial Hispanic vote in Nevada. But even Dems who would like to make the GOP defend Arizona don't want to take the risk of dealing with a topic sure to lose red state and red-thinking voters in November.

Sen. Lindsey Graham's statement that there will be no bill 'til at least 2012 probably isn't true either—but a lot of Democrats are quietly glad that he said it.