By Greg Sargent
In the wake of the collapse of the farm bill in the House, Nancy Pelosi is putting Speaker John Boehner on notice: If you try the same shenanigans on immigration, expect the very same outcome.
In an interview today, Pelosi said she hoped Boehner and Republicans had learned "lessons" from the farm bill debacle about the consequences of moving legislation too far to the right, and warned that doing so on immigration reform would alienate Dems just as Republican amendments to the farm bill did.
"They were asking us to abandon our values, because they couldn't get their act together," Pelosi said of the farm bill debate, a reference to GOP amendments that imposed strict work requirements on food stamps on top of the $20 billion in cuts to the program. "Hopefully they learned a lesson that you cannot go too far."
Embedded in these comments is a stark warning that underscores Boehner's dilemma on immigration in the wake of the farm bill mess. Yesterday's vote showed again that there is a sizable bloc of conservative House Republicans that simply can't be counted on to pass legislation -- even if it contains massive concessions to them -- forcing a reliance on Dem votes to get big items passed. Boehner has insisted nothing will get a vote in the House unless it is supported by a majority of Republicans. But it's unclear whether a majority of Republicans will support anything with a path to citizenship in it, unless it perhaps contains extremely tough border security triggers as preconditions for it. (GOP Rep. Tom Price said today it's "highly unlikely" that citizenship can win over House Republicans.)
And Pelosi's warning today to Boehner means that anything that can win a majority of Republicans is likely to alienate Democrats en masse, making passage perhaps impossible. Pelosi repeatedly warned that Boehner must not embrace immigration reform that "undermines our values," lest that cost Dem support.
"If you want our vote, you have to have our input," Pelosi said.
Asked to lay down a hard principle that defined those values, Pelosi avoided getting too specific, but made it clear that the sort of hard border security triggers sought by conservatives as a precondition for citizenship would likely be a nonstarter for Dems. The emerging Senate bill has replaced such hard triggers with other border security metrics Dems can accept, but it seems likely that conservatives could renew the push for something approximating hard triggers in the debate over the House bill -- which would likely be a nonstarter for Dems, Pelosi suggested.
"The key point is this: if they have triggers that are impossible to achieve, then it's disingenuous to say there's really a path to citizenship," Pelosi said, reiterating that citizenship must be "achievable."
In a sign Dems will hold Republicans to a high standard on that point, Pelosi said that the E-Verify hard trigger in the House proposal -- E-Verify must be operational after five years before citizenship can happen later -- is already a hard lift for Dems, though not a deal killer. "That's a poison pill, but not lethal," Pelosi said. This suggests low tolerance for any more triggers.
Pelosi's remarks are a reminder of the dilemma Boehner faces. There really may be nothing that a majority of Republicans could support that can also win over Dems in any significant numbers. Anything that can pass the House with almost entirely Republican votes -- whatever that would be -- won't get the support of Senate Democrats or President Obama. Which means, as Brian Beutler put it, that the only way Boehner can get reform through the House that has a chance of becoming law is if he accepts the need to "dispense with the member management theatrics and throw in with Democrats."
Pelosi seems eager to use the farm bill debacle to sharpen the reality of the choice Boehner faces. "He's going to have to work with us," Pelosi says. "Hopefully they've learned something about legislating."