As the Republican House worked behind the scenes to come to a unified position on immigration reform, key GOP pundits staked ground on both sides. Meanwhile, Democrats began to soften their resistance to a "legalization only" option without a path to citizenship.
At stake is the so-called "gang of eight" bill, jointly crafted by a bipartisan group of senators and passed by the Senate. Speaker John Boehner on the House side has indicated that the House will not take up that bill unless a "majority of the majority" favor it, which prevents a split vote with Democrats peeling off moderate Republicans.
Thus the stage was set for pressure on GOP House leaders from the conservative punditry.
Former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove took to the Wall Street Journal to argue for the bill, asserting that Hispanic voters are available to the GOP, but may not be if they are offended by the party's handling of immigration. Rove called it "gateway issue."
"A January Latino Decisions survey suggested that 42 percent of Hispanics would vote Republican or be more likely to if the GOP 'took a lead role' in passing comprehensive reform with a path to citizenship," Rove wrote.
Conservative pundits Bill Kristol and Rich Lowry, the editors of the Weekly Standard and National Review, respectively, co-authored a sharply worded "kill the bill" commentary on Tuesday.
Kristol and Lowry argued to the bill center on what they see as dubious enforcement provisions, a legal immigration policy that would tilt toward unskilled workers rather than skilled workers demanded by the economy, and its enormous size and complexity. They specifically point to Obamacare as a warning on the latter point.
"If Republicans take the Senate and hold the House in 2014," Kristol and Lowry wrote, "they will be in a much better position to pass a sensible immigration bill. At the presidential level in 2016, it would be better if Republicans won more Hispanic voters than they have in the past — but it’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility. Passing this unworkable, ramshackle bill is counterproductive or irrelevant to that task."
Mark Salter, a former advisor to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign, fired back in Real Clear Politics, arguing that the enforcement weaknesses Kristol and Lowry assert are imagined, and arguing that no better bill is likely to result by waiting.
Salter defends the bill on substance by arguing that the status quo is hurting "small, medium and big businesses in every region of our country. Our border is not adequately secure. Our global competitiveness is being harmed. These are serious problems in urgent need of relief. The Senate bill would relieve them and provide broad economic benefits to the country. And it would treat humanely people who came here for a better life and are not leaving, no matter what Congress does or does not do."
"My main objection to their 'advice' to House Republicans is that it affirms the idea that no legislation is better than imperfect legislation that fixes some of the problems we all recognize as serious," Salter added. "That’s the same as arguing that dysfunctional government incapable of discharging important responsibilities is preferable to modestly competent and ideologically compromised government. It’s not a principled view; it’s a childish one, and deeply injurious to the country’s well-being."