Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Immigration debate exposes fault lines inside GOP

Renewed immigration debate exposes fault lines inside of GOP… Timing is everything: Does postponing any House votes on immigration until after GOP primary season lessen the divide?... Obama says he’s encouraged by House GOP leaders’ rhetoric on immigration… Yet Democrats also find themselves divided -- on trade… On Jeb Bush and 2016… Look here: Rubio’s approval rating in Florida is at 52%... The expensive race to replace Waxman… And NBC/WSJ poll: 40% would encourage their children to play another sport than football due to concussion concerns.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner talks about immigration reform while speaking at a GOP retreat in Cambridge, Md.

*** Immigration debate exposes fault lines inside of GOP: The issue of immigration reform divided the Republican Party in 2006-2008 (see John McCain’s presidential bid). It divided the party again last year as the Senate passed the “Gang of Eight” legislation. And it appears headed to divide the party once again this year with House GOP leaders unveiling their “standards” for reform. As NBC’s Carrie Dann and Frank Thorp report, “A draft document obtained by NBC News on Thursday reiterated many principles already laid out by GOP leaders, including a refusal to meld any House-passed legislation with a comprehensive bill previously passed by the Senate. It also stated that ‘border security and interior enforcement must come first.’ But the draft also offered a potential blueprint for how most of the nation’s undocumented immigrants can ‘come out of the shadows” and live without the threat of deportation.’” These standards go out of their way to have tough language when it comes to border security, and they go out of their way to avoid the c-word -- citizenship. But already conservatives are lining up in opposition (Heritage Action, Bill Kristol, Drudge). One of the things the DC establishment underestimated in the first half of last year was the conservative opposition in this debate. Do an improving economy and less overall illegal immigration lessen that? We’re about to find out.

*** Is timing everything? Yesterday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that any immigration votes would come largely AFTER the primary season. “My hunch is it doesn’t come up tomorrow. It’s probably months out, I don’t know. But the point would be most of the primaries would’ve faded by then, anyway. By the time you get to June, most of them are behind you.” It’s more than a hunch; it’s the plan. House GOP leaders believe there’s a sweet spot of sometime around Memorial Day and before July 4 where they can get this done with perhaps a minimal amount of primary political damage. Indeed, 13 primaries will have taken place by May (TX, IL, IN, NC, OH, NE, WV, AR, GA, ID, KY, OR, and PA). And another 17 will have taken place by June (AL, CA, IA, MS, MT, NJ, NM, SD, ME, NV, ND, SC, VA, CO, MD, NY, and UT). Perhaps more importantly, just about all the candidate-filing deadlines will have passed by the spring. 

*** Obama says he’s “encouraged” by the House GOP leaders’ rhetoric on immigration: When it comes to immigration, Obama appears to be willing to cut a deal. Here’s what the president told CNN: “I genuinely believe that Speaker Boehner and a number of House Republicans – folks like Paul Ryan – really do want to get a serious immigration reform bill done,” he said. “If the speaker proposes something that says right away folks aren’t being deported, families aren’t being separated, we’re able to attract top young students to provide the skills to start businesses here and then there’s a regular process of citizenship – I’m not sure how wide the divide ends up being.” There was not a single word in the president’s comments that was designed to stick a finger in the GOP’s eye. He’s giving the House GOP as much space as it needs.

*** Dems are divided on trade: But Republicans aren’t the only divided over a particularly issue. Democrats find themselves divided over trade. Roll Call: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not a fan of trade promotion authority, also known as fast track, and doesn’t rule out keeping it off the Senate floor. ‘I’m against fast track,’ the Nevada Democrat told reporters... Asked if he would block action on the issue Reid said, ‘We’ll see.’” Here’s the reality on the trade issue: The president has two big regional trade deals he wants to finish before he leaves office -- one with Asian countries competing against China and one with the European Union. But he barely brought them up in this week’s State of the Union. It wasn’t an accident. The White House knows this will divide the Dem Party if he fights for these deals THIS year. Expect “progress” on these trade deals to be slow-walked all year long. The real push for these deals by the White House probably happen until 2015.

*** On Jeb Bush and 2016: Earlier this week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he was going to decide on a possible presidential run later this year. “I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year,” he told a local Miami TV station. “And the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits. It’s a pretty pessimistic country right now; and, is it right for my family? So I don’t even want to think about that till it’s the right time and that’s later on.” On the one hand, here was Jeb Bush opening the door WIDE OPEN to a presidential bid. On the other hand, he specifically mentioned how pessimistic our politics is right now. And you do have to wonder how uplifting a presidential contest featuring another Bush (and even a Clinton) could be. Here’s another thing worth considering: If Bush runs, he’ll have to wage a primary campaign inside a political party that is breaking away from the George W. Bush legacy (on spending and deficits, on immigration, on the NSA). In other words, his GOP opponents would force him to run on his brother’s record. Does Jeb have the stomach for THAT? It’s one thing to defend your own record, but to have to defend someone else’s?  

*** Look here: Rubio’s approval rating is at 52% in Florida: Speaking of another Florida Republican… Let’s not mince any words: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had a rough 2013, beginning the year as the 2016er the Beltway was buzzing over and ending it largely as an afterthought. There was the State of the Union response (with that grab for water), then the seeming abandonment of the Senate immigration bill he helped pass. But in a reminder Beltway buzz and neglect can’t always tell you the whole story -- especially this far out from 2016 -- it’s worth noting that Rubio still enjoys some positive poll numbers. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday finds him with a 52% job rating in Florida, which is very solid number in this political environment. He also registered in the double digits (10%) in the Washington Post/ABC GOP trial heat for 2016, though behind Paul Ryan (20%), Jeb Bush (18%), Chris Christie (13%), Ted Cruz (12%), and Rand Paul (11%). We’re not saying that Rubio is in the same position he was a year ago (and it’s possible that the renewed immigration debate doesn’t help him with conservatives). But what we are saying is that it’s too early to count ANYONE out.

*** The expensive race to replace Waxman: Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) announcement that he would retire from Congress at the end of the year not only means that one of the last House Democratic lions (another Watergate baby) is departing the chamber; it also means California is going to see a VERY EXPENSIVE race to replace him. Indeed, it very well could be the most expensive congressional race in the county, given the Los Angeles media market as well as California’s top-two system. In all likelihood, you will see two Democrats advance in that top-two general election, and both will have to spend LOTS of money to win.

*** NBC/WSJ poll: 40% would encourage their children to play another sport than football due to concussion concerns: Ahead of Sunday’s highly anticipated NFL Super Bowl, 40% of Americans say they would encourage their children to play a different sport than football due to concerns about concussions, according to new findings from our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That’s compared with 57% who say they would have no problem if their child wanted to play organized football. But there is a striking split here when it comes to income -- 47 percent of respondents making the highest incomes (more than $75,000 per year) wouldn’t children playing football due to these concerns, versus just 28 percent of those with the lowest incomes (less than $30,000) who say this. There’s also an age divide – 56% of seniors wouldn’t want their kid to play, compared with just 29% of those 18-34. (Surprisingly, there’s little difference among male and female respondents.) While you might look at this poll and say, “Well, only 40% wouldn’t want their child to play football,” just look at who those 40% are. They are the most affluent of folks, and on a cultural issue like this, potentially a leading indicator of where public opinion is heading -- and that’s a problem for football.

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC