Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

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Friday, May 26, 2006
Couple more notes on the politics of the Senate vote.

- There are five Republicans in the Senate who think they could be the next President: Allen, Brownback, Frist, Hagel and McCain. Only Allen voted against the bill. I don't think that helps Allen all that much, because he was always going to run as the most right-wing of the viable candidates. I think this vote buries Chuck Hagel, whose only hope was to be the candidate of a paleo revolt furious about Iraq. It also buries Frist, if he wasn't already six feet under. Brownback was never a serious option and, anyhow, he's running as the bleeding-heart Christian so his vote makes sense and won't make a difference to his appeal. So this vote probably helps Romney and (if he runs) Giuliani at the expense of McCain, because the (substantial) contingent within the GOP that will be furious about the bill will now consider McCain the worst of the four top GOP contenders for the nomination. McCain is doing with immigration-restrictionists exactly what he did with Christian conservatives in 2000. He'll probably figure out his mistake right about two years too late. Meanwhile, tying down Romney (and Giuliani, if he runs) on this bill specifically should be toward the top of the list of journalists' questions. The question is simple: do you incline more towards the Senate or the House approach on immigration? And if the choice is a vote for the Senate bill or a vote for no bill at all, which way would you vote? That still leaves open an answer of "I favor the Third Way on immigration" whatever that may be, but it demands an answer to a real choice now facing both Houses and the President in Washington.

- Of the fourteen GOP Senators up for re-election this year (*not* counting Frist, who is not running), ten voted against the bill. The four who voted for it: Chafee, DeWine, Lugar and Snowe. Chafee is the archtypical RINO, and Snowe is a liberal Republican, so no surprise in either case. Lugar will be Senator for life so there's nothing much to discuss here. DeWine is the interesting vote, particularly given that Santorum and Talent, who are both fighting tough re-election battles, each voted against the bill. And I don't imagine that the politics of immigration are that different in Missouri and Pennsylvania than they are in Ohio. It will be interesting to see if this vote matters (or is interpreted to have mattered in retrospect) in any of these three races.

- In any event, the contrast between the last two points is, I think, very instructive. GOP Senators facing the voters in their state voted largely against this bill. GOP Senators who want to be President voted largely in favor of this bill. That suggests a rather different balance of power between interests in the race for President as compared with the race for a Senate seat.

- Speaking of geography: I note that while Texas native President Bush has been the prime mover behind the immigration bill, both Texas Senators - Kaye Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn - voted against. McCain was the big gun pushing for a liberal bill in the Senate, but the other Senator from his state - John Kyl, a good friend of McCain's - voted against. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted in favor, while Jim DeMint, the junior Senator, voted against. Frist (Tennessee) voted for and Alexander against. Bennett (Utah) voted for and Hatch against. Gregg (New Hampshire) voted for and Sununu against. Warner (Virginia) voted for and Allen against. Craig (Idaho) voted for and Crapo against. There is a regional bias in the overall vote, of course - the Northeast voted overwhelmingly for, the South somewhat against, with the Midwest and West voting for by about the margins of the Senate as a whole. But given that the GOP pretty much owns the South while the Democrats pretty much own the Northeast and West Coast, the party split largely explains the geographic split rather than vice versa. That said, I will note that there are 21 states that elected 2 GOP Senators; of these, eleven are arguably Southern states and, of these, in seven cases (AL, GA, MO, MS, NC, OK, TX) both votes were against and in four case (KY, SC, TN, VA) the vote split. And in only one state outside of the South (broadly construed - I'm including Missouri in the South, which is questionable) did both GOP Senators vote against (that was Wyoming), while in three such states (AK, ME, OH) both Senators voted for. So there does appear to be more willingness on the part of Southern GOP Senators to vote against than on the part of Western GOP Senators. Which is interesting, given that states like Arizona (split) and New Mexico (in favor) are the ones on the front lines.

- There are rumors of a fight brewing below the surface over who will replace Frist when he retires and who will replace Santorum if he loses. The presumptive heir to Frist is Mitch McConnell, who has the support of Bob Bennett and Judd Gregg. The rumors are that Lott may try to regain the leadership if 2006 turns out to be a debacle, and that even if he doesn't challenge McConnell he may run for whip if Santorum loses (as he is likely to do). I note that McConnell, Bennett and Gregg all voted for the immigration bill, and that Lott voted against.

- Just how incented are the various parties to get a bill passed? Take it as a given that there is no chance of the House prevailing in conference; the Senate vote was lopsidedly in favor, and the House is in disarray, not to mention that nobody wants to embarrass the President by presenting him with a bill he wants to veto (which he would certainly do to an enforcement-only bill). So the practical choice is: something that looks like the Senate's bill or nothing at all. Given that the GOP Senators who are actually up for re-election largely voted against, it's hard for me to see how the Senate has a strong political incentives to get a bill passed. By contrast, the House GOP clearly feels that passing an enforcement-only bill helps them. So: do they convince themselves that passing the Senate bill enables them to go home and brag that they "did something" about immigration? Or do they decide that doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing at all? Phone calls over Memorial Day weekend will probably have some effect on how they answer this question. But I think at this point it's lose-lose: a bad bill will dishearten the base and weaken the GOP in November, while no bill will make it look like the GOP can't accomplish anything, and weaken the GOP in November. I don't think Mickey Kaus is right that the House could embarrass the Senate by passing a watered-down enforcement-only bill. How, precisely, does the House present the Senate with an up-or-down choice? The bill that gets voted on is what comes out of conference, right? Why do the Senators in conference agree to a bill that embarrasses them? The bottom line is: if there's no bill, the Senators who voted against and who voted in favor each think they are OK (or they wouldn't have voted that way). The antis go home and say, "we stopped a bad bill" and the pros go home and say "we passed a good bill but the House is scared of Lou Dobbs." It's the House that is most vulnerable on this issue, which is why the Senate is daring to try to strongarm them into agreeing to the opposite of what they believe, just to show they are "doing something."

- If Derb is looking for GOP Senators he can still support and who might need help this year, top of the list is Jim Talent, because he's very vulnerable but could still win his race. Other (possibly) vulnerable incumbents who voted against include: Rick Santorum (very likely to lose), John Kyl (very likely to win), and Conrad Burns (who has Abramoff problems and who I suspect will lose). I remember liking Talent when he was a House member, but he hasn't made much of a mark as a Senator, for good or ill.