Mitt Romney went before a group of Latino public officials today to offer some remarks on immigration. Calling it a "plan" would be too generous, although there were a couple of details, some of them perfectly reasonable, like giving green cards to people who get an advanced degree at an American university. But the part everyone has been waiting for—his reaction to President Obama's recently-announced mini-DREAM Act—was pretty disappointing, because it engaged in a kind of magical thinking that has become increasingly untenable:
Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure. As President, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution.
I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal immigration in a civil but resolute manner. We may not always agree, but when I make a promise to you, I will keep it.
It's certainly nice to know he'll be "resolute," but you may have noticed that getting a major immigration reform through Congress is kind of a difficult thing to do. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both tried to do it and failed. So how is Mitt going to accomplish this feat? He will "put in place my own long-term solution." Now why didn't anyone think of that before?
This isn't something new, of course—most challengers act as though through the overwhelming force of their personality, they'll sweep away all opposition, bring both parties together, and get things done. The messy details are left for when you're actually in office. Obama certainly talked that way four years ago. But after all we've been through in the last few years, isn't it incumbent upon a presidential candidate to at least not pretend that enacting large, sweeping legislation that requires bipartisan cooperation on an intensely controversial issue is going to be a piece of cake?
Last weekend, Bob Schieffer asked Romney what he would do about the Obama policy while he was getting his awesome new policy in place, and Romney dodged the question. But no one who knows anything about Congress believes it'll be anything but enormously difficult.
And it'll be particularly difficult for Mitt Romney. It isn't a matter of the complexity of the issue, as it was with health care reform where there were hundreds of small and large details to be worked out. In this case, it's about the fragile coalition that would have to be assembled to pass immigration reform. I spoke today to a staffer for one of the most influential members of the House on the immigration issue, and he pointed out that there have been comprehensive immigration bills sitting around for ten years. The problem, he said, is the House Republicans. As long as they're in control, no immigration bill that grants any undocumented immigrant anything other than a swift kick in the pants has any hope of passing. If a President Romney was to pass immigration reform, he'd have to do it with overwhelming support from Democrats and enough moderate Republicans peeled off to get to 218 votes.
But this is Mitt Romney we're talking about. The guy who is going to have to spend his entire first term convincing conservatives he's still one of them, lest he face a primary challenge from the right. What do you think are the chances he'd take on a high-profile fight with his party's right wing, with the odds stacked against him?
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