For untold months, the ritual never changed. Sen. Lindsey Graham or Sen. John McCain would approach a Senate lunch or a vote. A pack of reporters would descend on them, asking for updates and wisdom about the comprehensive immigration bill. One or both would supply a handy quote about the doom facing the Republican Party if this bill did not pass. “We’re in a demographic death spiral.” Stuff like that.
The bill did pass, in one chamber, and the media has struggled a bit as the game has moved to the House of Representatives. The people’s house suffers from a distinct lack of Meet the Press guests. On Wednesday afternoon, members of the GOP majority filed in and out of a basement meeting room, with reporters lined up along all the escape routes. When a member exited, and he slowed down, a dozen or more reporters would pounce with questions. What was the mood in the room? Would he back a path to citizenship? Was the Senate bill dead?
It didn’t really matter who the congressman was or if reporters knew who he was. Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who looks like Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga, who looks like Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, paused to take questions from an Omaha World-Herald reporter. Then came the swarm.
“Would you say there’s a general resistance to a pathway to citizenship?” asked a reporter.
“We had a good discussion about the whole variety of perspectives,” said Fortenberry.
“What about the Dreamers, congressman?” asked a reporter about the euphemistically named group of people brought to the United States when they were too young to know they were here illegally. “Is there a sense that those children should be given priority or different treatment than adults?”
“There’s a very serious concern that the Senate bill prioritizes a pathway to citizenship over securing the border.”
Quietly, as Fortenberry heated up the boilerplate, a couple of reporters tried to figure out who was talking.
“Berry?” asked a radio reporter holding an eggplant-shaped microphone toward one of the 200-odd men who could make or break immigration reform.
“Fortenberry,” corrected a colleague.
“Fortenberry,” said the radio hack, turning into the microphone to make note. “Fortenberry. With an F.”
The special meeting was called to deal with exactly that sort of randomness and confusion, from members and from the media. House Republicans have been cast all year as the assassins-in-waiting of “comprehensive immigration reform.” That was accurate: They don’t want to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and they are increasingly cold to theories that killing the bill will hurt their party.
But the party leadership—and to a larger extent, the party’s grandees and donors—see a risk if House Republicans are blamed for killing a deal that passed in the Senate. On MSNBC’s Now With Alex Wagner, just three hours before this meeting, Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador had insisted that Democrats’ obstinance was the real reason the bill would fail. “If Chuck Schumer’s not going to accept anything unless he gets 100 percent of what he wants, then he’s the one who’s killing immigration reform,” said Labrador. Nobody believes that, given that the Senate did pass something, it included border security that Schumer hadn’t wanted, and Labrador himself had bolted a House dealmaking group.