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Did the Shutdown Help the Immigration Cause?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Arizona families with the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition hold hands and pray in front of Boehner’s office Tuesday in the Longworth House Office Building. The event was held to launch a week of prayer for Boehner to act on immigration legislation.

“It’s almost impossible to understate how important this is for 2016; [Republicans] can afford to slip no further,” said an operative working on immigration issues. “When you look at the national party, there’s no one who wants to elect a Republican president who doesn’t think they should do this. It’s not that they’re going to start winning tons of [Hispanic] votes, it’s that they’re going to lose less of them and they’re going to be able to compete.”

This operative noted that party leaders are concerned about the political shifts in the Southwest — where swing states such as New Mexico and Colorado have become increasingly Democratic — and noted that it would only take four or five key GOP lawmakers to impress on their colleagues that reality.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and former vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., could be important to that effort.

Several piecemeal immigration bills have already been approved by House committees, and the best-case scenario for immigration overhaul backers may be to pass as many as possible and then get into a formal (or informal) conference with the Senate on its bipartisan bill. The thinking goes: If they can get to a conference, they may be able to approve something that implements changes to the system, even if it’s not as comprehensive as the Senate measure.

Several immigration supporters also say the shutdown marginalized many of the GOP’s most conservative voices, exposing a rift that otherwise could have been outed in an immigration debate.

In the Senate, backers are resigned to hoping that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will bring legislation to the floor.

This weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave a lukewarm response to a question about an immigration bill’s chances. He said Boehner should break away from the “Hastert rule” requiring a majority of Republican support for any bill — just as he did with the measure that reopened the government and extended the debt ceiling.

“His history was, what I’ll do is, I’m not going to pass anything unless it’s the majority of the majority. I hope this breaks that,” Reid told the Spanish-language network Univision. “If immigration were brought to the floor tomorrow it would pass ... in the House of Representatives, overwhelmingly. The American people want it. It would reduce the debt by a trillion dollars. It’s long overdue.”

Reid added that it’s a “two-year Congress” and that he won’t support any bill without an explicit pathway to citizenship, even though advocates acknowledge they have a better chance at getting something into law if they pass other fixes to the system.

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