When mixed signals have no grander meaning

Who knows. (Creative Commons)

Who knows. (Creative Commons)

Right now the hopes of immigration reform activists hang on the every word of House Republican leadership. The problem is there is no Kremlinology for this group. There’s no way to decode their public utterances to discern some kind of significant, hidden mode of thinking or grand plan. The much more likely situation is that what they say from day to day is incoherent.

What we know about John Boehner’s way of operating is that John Boehner wants to continue to be speaker, and passing major legislation is all well and good as long as doing so doesn’t endanger that first goal. He is also probably part of the Republican Party elite that sees immigration reform as a long-run electoral necessity for them. But these views don’t fit together when his restive caucus hasn’t been brought around on the idea. So what he says from day to day will likely be inconsistent.

This leads to the recent instances where Republicans have started to claim “we can’t trust Obama to enforce immigration laws.” This is an absurd claim for a whole number of reasons, but most notably, I think, because it is an alleged complaint that has no way to be satisfied. Like the claim that the border ‘needs to be secure’ before reform efforts, in the absence of any criteria for establishing trust, it just turns into a vague, passive-aggressive, blame-deflecting way of blocking reform.

The existence of those kinds of blocks is not commensurate with actually passing reform. Some sharp observers don’t see those kinds of statements as very problematic:

True, but it’s also (more plausibly) what he’d say if he really doesn’t know what he’s going to do about the issue. The problem is that, in the meantime, it just sets up another unmeetable condition for moving forward on reform, where the Senate bill actually made political progress by determining how the previously unmeetable conditions would be met.

The good news, I guess, is that the House GOP leadership’s tack could just change again tomorrow. Somewhat promising standards for immigration reform one day, declarations incommensurable with passing them the next.

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