Archive for August, 2013

Republican Lawmakers Retaliate Against Heritage Foundation

Scalise, RSC Take a Big Stand
by Tim Alberta, National Journal

Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, conservative outside groups have executed a relentless pressure campaign aimed at pushing the House majority further toward the base, and impressing upon lawmakers the risks of voting against the recommendation of these right-wing rainmakers.

But after a summertime spat over agriculture policy, GOP lawmakers decided to push back.

According to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members—has barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol. The conservative think tank has been a presence at RSC meetings for decades and enjoys a close working relationship with the committee and its members. But that relationship is now stretched thin, sources say, due to a series of policy disputes that culminated with a blowup over last month’s vote on the the farm bill.

RSC Chairman Steve Scalise, R-La., told Heritage officials of his decision last month.

“The Heritage Foundation and the RSC have a longstanding relationship in developing and promoting conservative solutions to the problems facing our nation, and we are proud to continue that tradition to this day through regular joint events and briefings,” said Stephen Bell, spokesman for Scalise and the RSC.

Still, the move to effectively kick Heritage out of the weekly RSC meeting represents “a seismic shift” in the relationship between the two institutions, according to one high-ranking Capitol Hill aide.

The acrimony can be traced to a pair of summer showdowns over agriculture policy.

In June, as the House prepared to vote on an extension of the farm bill—an enormous legislative package that governs everything from crop subsidies to food-stamp policy—conservative lawmakers and outside groups rallied in opposition. Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the right-wing think tank, called for the bill to be split into two pieces—one dealing specifically with agriculture policy (called a “farm-only bill”) and another legislating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food-stamp program known as SNAP.

Members of the RSC agreed. In fact, Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana sponsored an amendment that would accomplish exactly what Heritage Action and other outside groups were advocating: splitting the farm bill. Stutzman’s amendment failed, however, and Heritage Action issued a key vote alert warning lawmakers to vote “no” on the farm bill. (If they voted “yes,” members faced consequences, anything from a demerit on their Heritage Action “scorecard” to a 30-second radio ad launched back in their districts.)

The vast majority of GOP lawmakers, including many conservatives from rural districts, ignored the outcry from the right and voted for the bill. But in the end, 62 House Republicans sided with Heritage Action, enough to help Democrats defeat a bill that they denounced for its steep cuts to safety-net programs.

For Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had publicly endorsed the farm bill, the defeat was a black eye. Within hours, members of his leadership team were conferring with leading RSC members who had opposed the legislation, and soliciting suggestions on how to pass a revised farm bill. Their response: Split the agriculture policy into a separate bill—just as the outside groups have been advocating—and we’ll vote yes.

Boehner and his team eventually agreed, and three weeks later a farm-only bill came to the House floor. Of the 62 Republicans who voted against the first farm bill, 48 supported this second iteration, which passed by a narrow margin. Leadership had its farm bill victory, and RSC members congratulated each other on achieving an ideological goal that had been discussed for decades: separating agriculture policy from food stamps.

But not all conservatives were celebrating. The new farm bill had passed over the objections of Heritage Action, which, to the astonishment of some RSC members, had issued another alert, telling conservatives to vote against the split bill—despite having spent years agitating for exactly that. In its warning, Heritage Action said the revised legislation “would make permanent farm policies—like the sugar program—that harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”


To some conservative members, this was Heritage Action moving the goalposts, plain and simple. And they were furious about it. Members mumbled to each other about how it had become impossible to please these powerful outside groups, which are known to raise more money off Democratic victories than Republican ones. There was, as one Hill aide put it, “enormous discontent” among conservative members who were tired of feeling threatened by an outside group that existed as a parasite living off the Republican members of Congress.

That’s when Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., decided to do something about it. An ambitious conservative elected in the tea-party wave of 2010, Mulvaney was perfectly positioned to spearhead an offensive aimed at undermining the influence of these outside groups. At the beginning of the 113th Congress, Heritage Action named Mulvaney one of its “sentinels” for his ultraconservative voting record, which had earned him a 95 percent rating on the organization’s scorecard for the 112th Congress.

Now, some six months later, Mulvaney was determined to send a message to Heritage Action. “I wanted to take them to task for their inconsistency,” Mulvaney recalls. “I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Heritage was now scoring against Republicans for doing exactly what Heritage had been espousing only a month before.”

(Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler said Mulvaney was well aware that they would reject any farm bill that did not make substantial reforms to crop subsidies and other programs, and therefore should not have been surprised by their opposition.)

To do this, Mulvaney needed strength in numbers. A single conservative lawmaker rebuking a like-minded outside group wouldn’t mean much, he decided, but a posse of tea-party types criticizing the very organization that has been lauding their defense of liberty—now that would grab Washington’s attention.

Mulvaney’s idea was to pen a joint op-ed from conservative lawmakers, published in The Wall Street Journal, slapping the wrist of Heritage Action. Mulvaney began drafting a list of recruits that met specific criteria: They had voted against the first farm bill; they had voted for the second farm bill; and they had a strong scorecard rating with Heritage Action.

Mulvaney reached out to roughly two dozen colleagues who fit the bill. His star recruit, sources say, was Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, a freshman tea-party favorite who enjoys a 95 percent rating from Heritage Action—among the highest marks in the House. Bridenstine acknowledged that he agreed to join Mulvaney, but downplayed his displeasure with any outside group. “The only reason I was interested in the op-ed was to explain my votes—why I voted against the first farm bill and for the second farm bill,” Bridenstine said. “It was not about going on the offensive against Heritage Action, because I think that would be very counterproductive.”


According to Mulvaney, “between six and 10” of the lawmakers he contacted agreed to join him. They began preparing their WSJ piece, and, according to sources, had reached an agreement with the newspaper on when to run it. As they were putting on the finishing touches, however, Mulvaney said he received an e-mail from one Heritage official. They knew what the members were up to, the official said, and asked them not to follow through. “We get the point,” the e-mail read.

After several days of deliberation, Mulvaney and his crew decided to stand down. “There was frustration there,” Bridenstine recalls, speaking of other members involved. “But ultimately we made a decision that creating any kind of daylight between them and us was not really in our best interest. So we decided not to do the op-ed.”

Days later, The Wall Street Journal published a story in its print edition—”Think Tank Becomes a Handful for GOP”—detailing the displeasure GOP lawmakers felt with Heritage Action. The first quote of the story belongs to Mulvaney. “We went into battle thinking they were on our side, and we find out they’re shooting at us,” he said of Heritage Action’s opposition to the revised farm bill, which he said “undermines the credibility of the organization.”

The story spawned a new wave of murmurings within the conservative community on Capitol Hill, where RSC members and their staffers had already begun hearing rumors of a coordinated reprimand of Heritage Action.

That’s when Scalise stepped in. The RSC chairman was among the members Mulvaney had recruited for the op-ed, but had not committed to joining. Now, with the WSJ story circulating and members growing more vocal in their displeasure with Heritage Action—one staffer described it as “an insurrection” brewing within the RSC—Scalise knew something had to be done.

After consulting with senior members of the RSC, Scalise reached a decision: Heritage employees would no longer be welcome to attend RSC meetings.

“Scalise was working on a way to quell the rebellion, to let members know he was handling it,” said one source, who is not affiliated with Scalise or the RSC. After the farm-bill incident, the source said, “There was a lot of mistrust in that RSC meeting room.”

One GOP lawmaker familiar with Scalise’s decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity, insisted that the RSC chairman had long been considering the Heritage ouster, and insisted that the timing of Scalise’s decision was “entirely coincidental.” Other sources disputed that assertion, arguing that the farm bill episode was certainly the galvanizing incident that caused Heritage to be removed—regardless of how long Scalise had been entertaining the idea.

Whatever the cause, many conservative Hill aides say the move was long overdue, arguing that if the RSC really is a “member-driven organization” it should not allow outside forces to influence its internal deliberations. “These are closed meetings for a reason,” one aide said. “It’s one member, and one staffer allowed per member. No press. No guests. So why are they (Heritage) different?”

Heritage officials would not comment on their removal from RSC meetings. “Since its founding, the Heritage Foundation has maintained a strong relationship with the Republican Study Committee, one that continues to this day,” said Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications for the Heritage Foundation.

As for the Action side, Holler said simply, “Heritage Action does not comment on member meetings.”


Heritage was allowed unique access because of its historical bond with the RSC.

The two groups were formed in the same year by some of the same people, and worked side-by-side for decades focusing on policy research rather than political strategy. That changed in 2010, when Republicans won back the House and the Heritage Foundation spawned Heritage Action.

There were promises of legal separation between the two entities, of course, but Republicans had little doubt that the line would eventually blur between policy shop and political outfit. And in the 113th Congress, according to Hill aides, the “wall” that Heritage employees refer to—separating the Action side from the Foundation side—has come crashing down.

This time frame coincides with the arrival of former Sen. Jim DeMint, who in January resigned his seat to take over as president of the Heritage Foundation.

DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund had previously raised huge sums of money by picking on establishment Republicans, many of whom had conservative voting records. This relentless pursuit of ideological purity, financed by fat checks from conservative donors, alienated lawmakers from DeMint and his organization.

With DeMint now at the reins of Heritage, Republicans on Capitol Hill see that pattern repeating itself.

(Ironically, it was DeMint’s predecessor, Ed Feulner, who in 1973 was instrumental in establishing both the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee. A former House aide, Feulner was a founding father to both organizations. That shared ancestry was critical to maintaining the powerful coalition between Heritage and the RSC for the past 40 years. Now, mere months after Feulner relinquished power at Heritage, the organization has been dismissed from the RSC meetings it has attended for decades.)

If nothing else, the schism is symbolic, representing an emerging divide between some conservatives in Congress who argue for amassing small policy victories, and the conservative outside groups that will settle for nothing less than outright ideological purity.

As one conservative House aide put it, “We can’t score touchdowns on every play; our job is to put points on the board. But all they want us to do is throw Hail Marys.”

That sentiment echoes the frustration of some members, but not all of them. There were 12 Republicans who voted against both farm bills, and additionally, some members, such as Bridenstine, who say they still trust the Heritage brand—despite being on the opposing side of the farm-bill fight.

“I think they’re a great group; I think they help us as legislators make good decisions,” Bridenstine said. “I don’t have any problem with what Heritage Action is doing.”

It’s unclear whether this breach in relations will extend beyond Heritage’s removal from the RSC meetings. The two entities have long worked closely together on legislative research and event planning, and Heritage pays for a variety of junkets enjoyed by RSC members. (For example, the three-day RSC retreat back in February was financed entirely by Heritage.) Should a more lasting schism emerge between the two, the RSC could be forced to look elsewhere for financial support for some of its traditional endeavors.

So far there is no sign of escalation to that effect. In fact, according to paperwork filed with the House Ethics Committee, Heritage recently paid for RSC Executive Director Paul Teller to attend a one-day trip—along with dozens of other conservative House aides—to the historic battlefields of Gettysburg.

The Jedi Council’s Debt-Ceiling Plan

They got the sequencing they wanted; now we’ll see if they can get the budget reforms through.

By Jonathan Strong, National Review

Every week on Representative Steve Scalise’s calendar, there’s a meeting with an unusual name: “Jedi Council.” Scalise, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), is the newest member of a group of House Republicans who are helping to craft the GOP’s strategy on budget fights.

About two-and-a-half years ago, representatives Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Tom Price, and Jim Jordan began meeting once a week when Congress was in session, usually in Hensarling’s Capitol office — he was then No. 4 in the House leadership — and usually first thing in the morning. When Scalise was elected RSC chairman in November, they asked him to join the Jedi Council.

This was right after Obama’s reelection, and in the following weeks the GOP conference nearly collapsed entirely, as Democrats handed Republicans their hats in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Looking ahead to the debt-ceiling increase, the Jedi Council worried that taking on Obama at the apex of his political power could end in disaster.

“There was a feeling from the five of them that if they had a debt-limit fight in February, it was inevitable that they were going to lose,” says a prominent conservative with knowledge of their deliberations.

The group formed a plan to “re-sequence” the budget fights to give the GOP more leverage. The idea was to punt on the debt ceiling for a while, let the automatic sequester cuts go into effect, pass the GOP’s budget, and then gear up for a big debt-ceiling brawl in the summer.

On the morning of the last day of the GOP’s January retreat in Williamsburg, Va., the Jedi Council met with Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the House leadership and struck a deal. The agreement, which rank-and-file Republicans reverently describe as the “Williamsburg Accord,” began with re-sequencing: In exchange for allowing a short-term debt-ceiling increase, House Republicans would make the modest demand that the Senate pass a budget for the first time in four years.

But the accord also included a promise from leadership to pass a budget that would come into balance within ten years, and to make enacting the reforms in that budget a goal of the debt-ceiling fight — priorities that had just been laid out in an open letter 40 conservative leaders had sent to House leadership. What has not been understood is that the Williamsburg Accord was as much an agreement between the Jedi Council and Boehner as it was between the Jedi Council and the conservative movement.

On January 15, the day before the Williamsburg retreat, Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, and Chris Chocola, a former congressman and now president of the Club for Growth, attended the Jedi Council’s weekly meeting on behalf of outside conservative groups. (Needham was physically present; Chocola was listening on speakerphone.) Ryan did most of the talking, explaining how starting a debt-ceiling fight in February would be suicide. Needham and Chocola weren’t thrilled, but they were willing to trust him. They wanted a push to balance the budget in ten years. The Jedi Council agreed, and, with the blessing of the outside groups, took the proposal to Boehner.

According to Wookieepedia, an online encyclopedia of the mythology of the Star Wars films, the Jedi Council is “a group of twelve wise and powerful Jedi Masters who were elected to guide the Order” — the Order being, of course, the Jedi Order, an “ancient monastic peacekeeping organization unified by its belief [in] and observance of the Force.” If the fact that the five lawmakers named their group after a piece of Star Wars trivia doesn’t convince you they are nerds, you may be interested to learn that they once posed for a photograph wielding toy lightsabers. (The author’s efforts to obtain this image, which is in the possession of petrified Jordan aides, were unsuccessful — for now.)

The House’s Jedi Council is unusually secretive. No aides are permitted to attend their meetings. At their June 13 meeting, they decided not to give interviews about the group, amid concerns that doing so could interfere with delicate negotiations, after which they did not provide any assistance for this article. Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the topic at all. In its first two years, almost no one knew the group existed, and nobody could identify anything it had done. In the last Congress, both Hensarling and Price were part of the House leadership team, and Jordan was RSC chairman; their formal positions of power may have helped obscure any coordination among them.

This Congress, Price and Hensarling are out of the leadership team. Price lost a bid for conference chairman to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was backed by leadership, and Hensarling became chairman of the financial-services committee. At one point, Boehner offered Price a largely ceremonial spot at the leadership table if he would drop his candidacy and pledge not to publicly break with Boehner for two years. Price declined.

Price’s ambition in particular provokes a great deal of suspicion from Boehner and leadership. The two essentially have no relationship, sources close to both men say, and there are perceptions of a broader distrust between the speaker and the Council. Some leadership aides ask whether the Jedi Council is designing the next debt-ceiling fight to culminate in a challenge to Boehner’s speakership; one rank-and-file House member told me in March that the Jedi Council pitched re-sequencing to him as a way of giving Boehner the rope he needed to hang himself. A Jedi Council member told me — before the Council’s decision not to speak to National Review Online — that this isn’t their plan, and several knowledgeable sources agreed that a coup doesn’t sound like them. (For one thing, trying to take out Boehner in the middle of a Congress could have adverse effects on the 2014 elections.)

As for the other members of the Council, Ryan has forged a closer relationship with Boehner since being picked for the Romney presidential ticket. Scalise and Jordan retain good working relationships with the leadership, but Hensarling, out of leadership, has drifted away.

Each of the five members of the Jedi Council brings a different strength and reaches a different part of the GOP conference, supporters say. Ryan has star power and deep credibility on budget issues. Hensarling is the elder statesman of the RSC, a longstanding conservative House caucus. Price, a physician, has expertise on health care. Jordan enjoys friendships with some of the most stubborn conservative members of the GOP conference. Scalise, elected in 2008, is coming into his own and has relationships with some cliques that the others know less well.

In the view of some conservative groups, the Williamsburg Accord has been a mixed bag, and Ryan in particular is in danger of losing his sheen because of his role, even if few observers realize it. Some prominent conservatives were shocked, for example, to learn that the Ryan budget achieves balance in ten years in part because it assumes that tax revenues will remain at their current level, 19 percent of GDP, which includes the fiscal-cliff and Obamacare tax increases. Officially, this revenue level will be achieved by a reformed tax system with lower rates and the resultant economic growth. But the assumed tax revenues as a percentage of GDP are higher than their historic average, which the outside groups find problematic. Both Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have nonetheless stayed neutral on the proposal, avoiding a fight and giving Ryan more room to maneuver.

House conservatives are also concerned that the improving economy has made it possible to postpone the debt-ceiling fight again and again: As more tax revenue comes in, the Treasury Department can fund the government longer with its existing borrowing authority. Ryan said in a recent radio interview that debt-ceiling D-Day will now come in November, much later than the summer battle originally anticipated.

The building angst about the strategy is partly why Senate conservatives, led by Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, began calling for using the upcoming continuing-resolution (CR) bill to defund Obamacare, a departure from the path laid out at Williamsburg. Cruz in particular has been quite successful at driving the debate in the media, even while the Jedi Council and other House Republicans have rejected his approach.

Boehner announced yesterday during a conference call with rank-and-file members that he will push for a short-term CR — a strong hint that a do-or-die Obamacare fight isn’t in the mix during the CR debate. Instead, leadership will follow the original plan to force a debt-ceiling brawl. That plan, however, prompts questions about the fine print of the Williamsburg Accord — what, that is, the brawl should be about. A source familiar with the deal recently told me, “The agreement was that it would include cuts or reforms that put us ‘on the path to balance’ in ten years. The bill wouldn’t necessarily have to achieve balance in ten years all by itself.”

What does putting the budget on a “path to balance” mean? “You can drive a truck through that loophole,” says one senior GOP aide. Scalise has talked about trading parts of the Ryan budget for increases in the debt ceiling — small tax and spending reforms for small debt-ceiling increases, and big reforms for bigger increases. Boehner would negotiate the details with President Obama, in theory producing some middle-ground deal.

How closely will House leaders stick to the Williamsburg Accord once tensions rise and the debt ceiling approaches? In public remarks, Boehner has said several different things, including promising a debt-ceiling increase only in return for the same amount in cuts and saying that “our goal here is to get this country on a path to balance the budget over ten years.” A spokesman clarified to NRO that no decisions have been made.

House majority leader Eric Cantor says he is on board with tying the debt-ceiling increase to reforms that balance the budget in ten years, calling such an approach “sensible.” He adds, underscoring his desire for urgent reform, “We have a demographic reality of 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, and a programmatic reality of Medicare being almost 50 percent underfunded.”

Although Boehner and Cantor will be making the final decisions about the debt-ceiling fight, it’s Ryan for whom the expectations are high. “I think the whole episode puts a lot of burden on Ryan — and the rest of the gang, but especially Paul, who got the exact sequencing he wanted to have,” Needham says.

It’s not quite fate of the universe, but when the debt-ceiling fight arrives this fall, much will be riding on the wisdom of Ryan and his allies.

A Possible Prescription for GOP: Lower Taxes, More Aid for Poor

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Promotes Blend of Conservative Orthodoxy Leavened With Liberal Policies
By Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Digging into a bowl of chicken soup at a Bob Evans restaurant, John Kasich does what comes naturally to governors: He boasts about his state’s financial outlook.

Job growth is up. The Republican governor just signed what he calls “the biggest tax cut in the country” after converting a looming $7.7 billion budget deficit into a $2.5 billion surplus. Such success, he says, “would probably get a global CEO a giant bonus.”

Then comes the part that sets Mr. Kasich apart.

All this is just prelude, he says, to a larger mission, one his Christian faith has called him to shoulder: “helping the poor, the beleaguered and the downtrodden, and trying to heal them and lift them up.”

More so than any other leading Republican, Gov. Kasich is using his perch to promote a blend of conservative orthodoxy leavened with liberal policies meant to help the poor, the mentally ill and the uninsured.

To hear him tell it, the 61-year-old onetime Lehman Brothers executive wants to rebrand the Republican Party by refashioning what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century.

On the one hand, he tamed a deficit by slashing funding to local governments and overhauling the state’s Medicaid rules, among things. He has eliminated the state’s estate tax and wants to phase out all state income taxes, a step aimed at stimulating growth. A budget he signed in June included a range of new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats.

At the same time, Mr. Kasich has stirred strong opposition from tea-party leaders—and won surprised approval from liberals—by pushing to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 additional Ohioans, adopting a provision of the Obama health-care overhaul that he has taken to defending with an openly religious fervor.

The former congressional spending hawk has steered millions more dollars into local food banks, forced insurance companies to provide coverage for children with autism and signed legislation to make it easier for recently released felons to clear their names and find jobs.

Since the return of the death penalty in the 1970s after a moratorium, Mr. Kasich has commuted more death sentences—four—than any other Republican governor except George Ryan of Illinois, who granted a mass clemency a decade ago.

Mr. Kasich also has promised union leaders he will oppose efforts to turn Ohio into a “right to work” state that bars labor contracts requiring all workers to be union members or pay dues. He struck a populist chord with a proposal, later turned down by the GOP-controlled legislature, to raise taxes on out-of-state oil companies so he could cut Ohioans’ income-tax rates.

As his party continues to seek a new footing after its national election losses last year, Mr. Kasich is blunt about his own aims for the GOP as he eyes a re-election fight next year and—some speculate—a possible run for the White House in 2016. Asked about that, his office said he is focused on improving the state.

“I have a chance to shape what it means to be a Republican,” Mr. Kasich said in an interview wedged between a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new factory and a rally supporting an expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the poor and disabled. “I have a chance to show what it means to be successful economically but also to have a compassionate side, a caring side, to help lift people up,” he said.

Mr. Kasich’s efforts, which his critics dismiss as an opportunistic bid to boost his once-abysmal poll numbers, come as many fellow Republican governors are pursuing sharply conservative agendas, empowered by GOP control of legislatures. Of the 30 Republican governors, just five so far have embraced and put in motion the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the health-care overhaul.

Nor are many Republicans in Congress taking Mr. Kasich’s cue to balance pro-growth economic policies with greater help for the poor. House Republicans have pushed this year to cut spending on Medicaid and on social programs such as food stamps.

Mr. Kasich isn’t alone in prodding his party to pay more attention to the disadvantaged. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan have made recent pitches to broaden the GOP’s message to the poor, as did the Republican National Committee in its postelection assessment early this year. Mr. Ryan held a “war on poverty” hearing at the budget committee last month.

But their differences in approach are large. Mr. Kasich sees government as a proper tool to aid and protect the poor, and spending on many social programs has grown during his tenure. Messrs. Cantor and Ryan talk about doing more with less and finding ways to rely more heavily on churches and civic groups.

If Mr. Kasich wins re-election next year, supporters say, he could provide his party with its most extensive model for a softer brand of conservatism. “John is showing, perhaps more visibly than anyone, that conservatives can care deeply about those who are overlooked and are at risk of being left behind,” said Ed Gillespie, a former national Republican Party chairman. “This is a very important thing for our party to demonstrate.”

There are risks: Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor, is among a string of Republicans who have suffered politically after straying from the party’s base. Outgunned in a 2010 GOP primary by now-Sen. Marco Rubio, Mr. Crist became an independent and later a Democrat.

Evidence so far shows Mr. Kasich benefiting from his strategy. A June Quinnipiac poll showed his approval notching a new high at 54%, versus 36% in the fall of 2011. A third of Ohio Democrats said they approved of his performance, nearly triple the share from 2011.

Mr. Kasich has lost little of the brusqueness that characterized his years as the U.S. House Budget Committee chairman in the late 1990s. When a conservative Ohio lawmaker questioned his quest to expand Medicaid, Mr. Kasich cut him off with a line he has used often since then.

When you die and go to heaven, Mr. Kasich said in recounting the conversation, St. Peter is “probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.”

Mr. Kasich created a stir at a closed-door conference in California hosted by the conservative Koch brothers when he told Republican donors and activists he wouldn’t apologize for his Medicaid policy.

“I know this is going to upset a lot of you guys, but we have to use government to reach out to people living in the shadows,” Mr. Kasich said, according to one participant, who noted that Mr. Kasich’s defense “sparked an audible rumbling of disapproval in the room.”

Asked about it, Mr. Kasich called the reaction to his remarks “unforgettable” but said: “I really shouldn’t speak about it, other than to say, ‘God bless people who go to those events.’ ”

At a packed Medicaid rally in the Ohio statehouse after the Bob Evans lunch, Mr. Kasich ripped into those who question the motivations of the poor.

“As Americans, we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy,” he said to loud applause from a heavily Democratic crowd. It is “unbelievable,” he said, “that we live in America and there are people who don’t have health insurance.”

When he ran for governor in 2010, after being out of politics for a decade, Mr. Kasich leaned heavily on the legions of new conservative activists who rose up to reject President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul and the surge of stimulus spending.

“I love the tea party!” he cried at a Cincinnati rally on the eve of his narrow win over the Democratic incumbent, Ted Strickland.

He began his governorship in early 2011 by supporting an existing bill to limit the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector unions. The move drew praise in conservative circles but also provoked a backlash, including from many working-class Republicans. A voter rebellion resoundingly overturned the law a few months later, and Mr. Kasich became one of the least-popular governors in the country.

Mr. Kasich says he has put the issue behind him. “We lost, and you have to listen to what people want,” he said.

Since then, he has worked to reach out to groups well beyond his conservative base.

He fought alongside Cleveland’s Democratic mayor for an overhaul of the city education system, supporting an increased local tax levy to pay for it. He worked with black pastors and legislators to revamp some of the state’s sentencing rules.

Some of his decisions have sent his onetime tea-party supporters into revolt.

“Kasich is so far off the reservation, it’s incredible,” said Tom Zawistowski, a prominent conservative leader from the Akron area who campaigned for Mr. Kasich in 2010 but promises “to work to un-elect him” next year.

Conservative critics, including many in the Ohio House, assail the governor for supporting a plank of the health-care law that will add billions to federal spending and eventually swell the state’s Medicaid costs.

This is the provision that would expand Medicaid—traditionally focused on children, pregnant women and the elderly and disabled—to all adults under a set income line. The Supreme Court ruled last year that states could decide whether to participate in this expansion. In Ohio, doing so would add 26,000 veterans and thousands of mentally ill people to the benefit rolls, according to the state’s own estimates.

Federal funds cover the expansion for three years but phase down to 90% by 2020, requiring Ohio to spend around $2.6 billion on the Medicaid expansion by 2022, state estimates show.

Republicans in the legislature refused to include the expansion in the state’s new budget. Mr. Kasich continues to fight for it.

Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, a Kasich protégé, says he hears angst over the Medicaid issue among conservatives “pretty much everywhere I go in the state.”

Some conservatives have been particularly annoyed by Mr. Kasich’s use of religious arguments to defend his policies. “I don’t recall Jesus Christ taking money from one person’s pocket to give it to someone else,” said state Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Cincinnati.

Democrats are expressing effusive surprise over Mr. Kasich’s leftward swerve on several issues, particularly after his comeuppance on the public-union issue. “He is becoming the people’s governor,” said state Rep. Bill Patmon of Cleveland, who has worked with the governor on criminal-justice and education issues.

Rev. Tim Aherns, a liberal Columbus pastor who fought Mr. Kasich during the 2011 union battle, now calls the governor “a pre-eminently practical politician” who “sees it as his calling to help the poor.”

Mr. Kasich’s Republican allies say what voters are seeing is simply a compassionate streak that has been part of his personality all along. “People are finally waking up to what John Kasich is: a blunt, hard-nosed but very contemplative problem solver,” said Doug Preisse, GOP chairman for the county surrounding Columbus.

The son of a mailman, Mr. Kasich often cites his own upbringing in the industrial town of McKees Rocks, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. Raised Catholic, he says he drifted from the faith in adulthood. He became an evangelical Protestant in the years after a car crash caused by a drunken driver killed his parents in 1987, when he was 35.

Since then, Mr. Kasich said, “it has been 25-plus years of pretty hard work” to define his faith and put it into practice. For years he has met twice a month with a group of friends to discuss religion and dig into Bible passages. His mission now, he said, is to “be someone who can repair the part of the world that I am a part of.”

Driving back to Ohio last month from a Cape Cod vacation with his family, Mr. Kasich stopped to eat in Buffalo, N.Y. He asked a few people at random if they had ever met Jack Kemp, the late Buffalo Bills quarterback who became a congressman and 1996 vice-presidential nominee.

Mr. Kemp, who once described himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative,” built a reputation as a Republican who focused on urban minorities and the poor.

“It was Jack, over and over again, who talked about lifting people, about hopes and dreams,” Mr. Kasich said. “Jack had a profound impact on the conservative moment. Maybe I have a chance to do that, too.”

The Lonely Republican on the US-Mexican Border

What can the GOP learn from New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce, and how does a white Republican survive in a border district with a majority-Hispanic constituency?
By Billy House, National Journal

PORTALES, N.M. – Rep. Steve Pearce looks out over the nearly 50 people who have shown up for his town hall at the historic Yam Theater in this eastern New Mexico city and jokes, “Just raise your hands. It’s like an auction. If nobody raises their hands, we’ll sell and go home.”

But Pearce knows he’s about to be hammered with questions. This unapologetic conservative lawmaker is becoming a national curiosity. He’s the only Republican congressman who represents an area on the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s also a white non-Hispanic lawmaker in a geographically sprawling district that is more than half Hispanic.

To some, that paints a target on him. State and national Democrats are trying to cast Pearce as an endangered political species because of the changing demographics in his district. They claim his voting record no longer meshes with the majority-Hispanic population, in a district also where Democrats already have an edge in voter enrollment.

At the same time, Pearce’s continued ability to get reelected has some national Republicans saying his brand of conservatism might actually be a guiding light for the party, perhaps even a way to attract more Latino voters.

Pearce, 65, dismisses both calculations.

“The clock is ticking. But not that clock. It’s this gray-hair clock that’s ticking on me,” he laughs about suggestions that his days in Congress are numbered because of the changing demographics. But in the same interview with National Journal Daily, Pearce says he’s already warned his own party leaders he will be difficult to emulate or clone, saying he’s told them, ‘When I’m gone, you’re going to have a tough time winning this district.’ ”

Undeniably, a key aspect of New Mexico’s 2nd District is the sheer size of its territory, and that weighs heavily in Pearce’s favor. The district covers more than 70,000 (mostly rural) square miles of the southern half of New Mexico, an area larger than the entire state of Florida.

In all, it has 18 counties, but it stretches north to areas just south of Albuquerque. It is home to Las Cruces, its biggest city, as well as places such as Deming, Ruidoso, Hatch, and Roswell, the city well known for its annual UFO festival, and Billy the Kid’s old Lincoln County stomping grounds. There’s even the town that changed its name to Truth or Consequences in the 1950s, in order to win a visit from the host of a once-popular quiz show.

But there is no single huge population center. And organizational efforts of any kind take some doing, which can make it tough for a political challenger to take on someone who has been blazing the district’s trails for years.

Pearce is a New Mexico native who was a combat pilot during the Vietnam War and who, after military life, started his own business in the oil-field services industry. Pearce served as congressman from the area from 2003 to 2009, giving up the seat for an unsuccessful 2008 bid for the Senate. But when he lost that race by a large margin to Democrat Tom Udall, Pearce ran to reclaim his House seat in 2010, taking about 42 percent of the Hispanic vote and outperforming what Mitt Romney did at the top of the GOP ticket nationally. He ousted Democrat Harry Teague who, it turned out, had succeeded him in Congress only temporarily.

To hear Pearce explain it, he simply works harder than most others would in this mammoth district. “Each county—18 of them—is its own basic demographic. So, that’s an impediment. But it’s an impediment I had to overcome. You’ve got to get out there and make the miles and the hours.” For Pearce, those miles are made that much longer because his home is in Hobbs—anything but centrally located—on the Texas border far to the east.

Yet, as his busy August congressional break schedule shows, Pearce holds a determined pace. Just in the past week, he has attended the town hall in Portales, the Lea County rodeo, and meetings in Santa Rosa. There are also office hours and stops in each locale to meet local officials, veterans, and others. There are two more town halls next week in Deming and Las Cruces, locations that also are hundreds of miles away from Hobbs.

Pearce does almost all of this travel by car with staffers, spending much of that time sleeping, working on the computer, and writing thank-you notes. “It’s hard to make calls because the cell [service] is dropped everywhere,” he says.

Pearce says he works this way because his district is, as he says, “upside down” in favor of Democrats. “So I tell people that it’s a little bit like dating a girl on the other side of New York City. You can date her, but you better be on the subway every afternoon, going over there. She’d just as soon find somebody closer.”

“If you’re there, it’s OK. And so Democrats will vote for me if I come out and work hard and show up. But if I am invisible, they’d just as soon vote for a Democrat,” he explains. As for Hispanic voters, he says they’re not looking so much at political party, but like other voters, “they’re looking for people who understand their desire for a better education for kids, jobs, and safety in the streets.”

On this day he’s driven to Portales for the town hall. There, seniors, veterans, dairy and peanut farmers, and ranchers press Pearce about the stalled farm bill, as well as the Affordable Care Act, a possible government shutdown, and concern over the future of a nearby Air Force Base.

But it’s a contingent from the Somos Un Pueblo Unido immigrant group that makes up half of those in attendance. And so, the questions keep coming back to immigration reform and why Pearce, in some views, is not more of a national leader for his party on the issue.

Pearce maintains a mostly likable, even humorous tone, including his repeated insistence on declaring that he is more of a policy wonk than politician.

But some of the reasoning for his firm position against including a path to citizenship in immigration reform is not well received.

“I have been to other countries, just recently early this year I was in Africa,” he said. “People living on one dollar a day. Now, my heart goes out to those African kids. But shouldn’t they become citizens? Shouldn’t those African kids with one dollar a day become citizens? Well, maybe they should. But I have to say, probably, we can’t feed the whole world. We can’t feed 8 billion people.” He adds, “I’m simply saying that a pathway to citizenship makes me very nervous for 11 million people [already here]. I do not understand how we tell the other 8 billion ‘no.’ ”

Pearce explains that he proposes instead to strengthen the border, and that undocumented immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens must first go back home and get in line. But if any of them want to stay and work, under his plan, they can obtain a green card without fines or other penalties, start paying taxes, get protection from government agencies, and not “live in the shadows” or fear exploitation.

The rub is that that green card could never become a red card; there would be no path to citizenship, as the Senate has proposed.

As for securing the border, Pearce tells his audience that more fencing won’t work. Rather, he says strengthening security through more sophisticated technology should be the plan.

Pearce gets a bit testy when Marina Piña, 24, of Portales, suggests that Pearce regards undocumented immigrants as a burden to New Mexico and the country. “Don’t put words in my mouth,” Pearce says, interrupting her in mid-sentence.

Piña responds nervously, yet cattily, “That’s true congressman Pearce. You haven’t said much. And that’s the problem. … What we need is your real leadership on this issue.” Other Hispanics in the audience, including some who’ve worked for years at local farms and for other businesses, also ask Pearce, politely, “Why do you not want us to become citizens?” and “Do you not care about Latino voters?”

At the close of the town hall, listeners leave divided on what they heard from Pearce.

“In our area, this is exactly the message we are looking for,” said Keith Thomas, a self-described liberal Republican on the Portales City Council and the president-elect of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce. “The east side of New Mexico typically is a very conservative group of folks—a lot of retirees, a lot of agriculture. And I think we’re just wanting straight answers from people representing us, and not acting like politicians. I think we get straight answers from Steve Pearce.”

But Marcela Diaz, the Santa Fe-based director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, who was on hand for the town hall, had a different spin. “There’s movement in a sense that he recognizes that we need these workers here, in his district, in New Mexico,” she said. But she added, “What we think is you clearly recognize us, congressman. You clearly want us here. But you want us to be second-class citizens. You don’t want us to have the ability to vote, or to have the permanence or the security of citizenship.”

Back in Washington, some GOP leaders, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, have pointed to Pearce as someone who is helping the party tap into Hispanic voter support. “When a conservative like Steve Pearce in New Mexico wins in a predominantly Latino district, we need to glean the lessons of his approach,” Priebus said in March.

But closer scrutiny of Pearce’s formula raises questions about whether many Republicans could—or would—really want to duplicate his approach. For instance, Pearce rarely talks openly about being a Republican. “Because I represent a 34 percent Republican district, I always must be talking to Democrats, so I don’t use ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ too much out in the open,” he said.

He also jokes on the stump about not speaking much Spanish, even though he acknowledges to audiences that his mother was a Spanish teacher. Pearce says that even Hispanics tend to laugh at the tale of his determination growing up that he wasn’t going to learn anything from his parents—including Spanish—and that when they laugh, they also “forgive” him. The laughs keep coming, he says, when he throws out that his mother keeps asking, “How’s that English working for you in that district, son?”

But watching him at a town hall, it becomes clear that Pearce actually knows more Spanish than he lets on.

Pearce is also constantly reminding audiences that he was among 12 Republicans who did not vote in January to reelect John Boehner as House speaker. “Probably the most popular vote I’ve made, in this district,” he says. When he tells audiences he cast that vote, Pearce says he gets, “Always applause, sometimes standing applause.”

But there is a clear aim to his leadership bashing. Pearce is working to inoculate himself from anything those party leaders might do that won’t play well in his district. In short, he is emphasizing that he is not part of Boehner’s inner circle, and has little control over what Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and others might do.

“I don’t know what pushes the leadership because I’m not in that group,” he told the town hall. “I don’t care to be in that group because I’m think I’m an independent voice. I’d rather be independent than be in the leadership clique.”

In an interview, Pearce goes on to complain that House GOP leaders “have some timid belief that if they pass immigration reform they’re suddenly going to get Hispanic votes. And I’m telling them that’s just about as crazy as anything I’ve ever heard of.”

Still, as Pearce pitches himself as a savvy independent voice, state and national Democrats say demographics in his district cannot be ignored forever.

“The clock is ticking,” says Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the cochairman of the Congressional Border Caucus, a group of lawmakers from districts along the U.S.-Mexico border (with whom Grijalva notes that Pearce does not actively participate).

Grijalva is among those who believe that even if Pearce is able to hold onto his seat in the 2014 congressional elections, he won’t be able to do so for long thereafter.

Democrats in the district now hold an enrollment advantage that could be as high as 43 percent, and the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2011 show the district is roughly 52 percent Hispanic. Though not all Hispanic residents are eligible voters, the Pew Research Center last fall reported that some 39 percent of all of New Mexico’s eligible voters are Hispanic, the largest share in any state.

Some Democrats say Pearce has benefited from weak, underfunded opponents. But this cycle, there is already one Democrat candidate declared to run against him—Leslie Endean-Singh, a Democratic lawyer from Alamogordo—and state Democrats are trying to woo other candidates, including Roxanne Lara, the Carlsbad attorney and former Eddy County commissioner who unsuccessfully sought the state party chairmanship earlier this year.

Whatever special formula the national GOP believes Pearce may have, Democrats note that it did not work when he left his seat to run for Senate in 2008.
“He’s very likable, very personable—and he does work hard to get out to see constituents,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman. “But if Republicans think Steve Pearce is a model, then they’re going to be losing a lot of elections.

What Jeff Bezos must do to save The Washington Post

Four ways the founder can revolutionize the Post — and an industry (more food for thought for John Georges @ The Advocate…)
A Kindle with every Post subscription? Not so far-fetched, as Jeff Bezos is widely expected to try to remake the news industry.

Ben Fischer, Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal

The Washington Post still has profound business challenges. But in two months, founder Jeff Bezos will bring a $25 billion fortune and a reputation for patience to the table as its new owner.

After announcing the deal, Bezos said “there is no map” for turning around a seven-year revenue slide at the newspaper. But the digital media world nonetheless exploded with brainstorms about what might emerge when the tech-age innovator behind the world’s largest online retailer gets a hold of an old-line media establishment.

The possibilities are virtually endless, says Alan Mutter, a former newspaper editor and tech CEO who blogs about the news industry. “It’s no fun talking about newsroom layoffs, no fun talking about collapsing circulation or falling advertising revenues, or closing bureaus,” Mutter said. “It doesn’t get us anywhere. This finally gets us somewhere, potentially.”

Readers could notice subtle changes in the way the Post conducts its usual news business in short order. Other evolutions into entirely new business lines might play out over a long time. Some changes may jar traditional readers; others may present vexing ethical questions.

For instance, when Bezos transplants his “customer first” mindset to the Post, which customers does he mean? Advertisers or readers? They have very different interests.

Details are almost entirely a matter of speculation, but few companies will be watched more closely than The Washington Post in the coming years, as Bezos looks for a new way to make money off covering the news. What will readers see?

In order of increasing complexity, here are the most prominent theories being bandied about this week:

1. More functions in the newspaper experience.

Imagine advertising on the Washington Post iPad app that lets you buy the product with a click. Or one-click/automated verification for subscription holds, digital accounts and new subscriptions.

“I think probably the low-hanging fruit is how they reduce the friction when people deal with us in the customer service function,” said Ken Doctor, a consumer media analyst for Outsell Inc., a California based analytics firm.

It could even mean reconsideration of the new paid-access model to its website, a tactic rapidly being embraced by the news industry — but one that’s at odds with Amazon’s philosophy of centering all decisions around the customer experience, said Brad Stone, a veteran reporter who has a book out in October about Bezos.

“What is less customer-focused than a pay wall?” he told the Post in follow-up coverage. “You’re making it harder for people to read your story at the same time there’s an abundance of competition.”

2. Make it personal, like Netflix. Or Amazon.

Expect Bezos to push a more personalized experience for readers, a concept newspaper editors have preached for years with limited success in executing.

The revenue potential is significant. Consider: The Post owns decades of archives text, photographs and even videos, and its newsroom produces new content virtually continuously. But most customers can readily see only what’s been produced in the last few days, and selected by editors for inclusion in particular sections of the website.

In a bid to escape that model, the newspaper launched Trove, an aggregation tool, in 2011. But it hasn’t gotten much traction, Doctor said, and newspapers’ attempts to customize its content pale compared with Amazon’s. Also, the Post developed its Social Reader, a Facebook app that automatically distributes stories to readers’ friends.

“Consumers are increasingly voting with their thumbs, picking and choosing the content when they want to read,” Mutter said. “[Bezos] understands that in his soul.”

What’s the most familiar aspect of the Amazon experience? Its “recommended for you” feature, the eerily accurate algorithm that predicts your future shopping habits.

That functionality on a news website could be a gold mine to advertisers demanding precision instead of breadth in their marketing — in particular advertisers eager to reach The Post’s national and international audience. It’s those readers who value the newspaper’s federal government and political coverage but have little value to traditional ad buyers.

3. B-to-B, on steroids.

The secret to expanding revenue may be found in a business-to-business strategy — that is, selling The Post’s digital products and journalistic content to other platforms, other journalists and Web developers, said Wolf Ruzicka, CEO of EastBanc Technologies, an outside developer who has worked with The Post.

An easy place to start is to make The Post the default news app on Kindles, and to embed Post video at Amazon Instant Video. But the paper has back-end digital products that also could be monetized, he said.

“To only embed it in the original content on or the newspaper and their iPad app, it’s a lost opportunity,” Ruzicka said.

Another writer said The Post’s news content could ultimately look more like content created by reporters for Reuters and Bloomberg, where the news is merely a complementary feature designed to sell the core product of business information. Expect Bezos to focus more on finding new ways to distribute Post information instead of focusing only on its existing, self-branded channels.

4. Research and development.

The Graham family is keeping WaPo Labs, a relatively new development arm of The Post. But the newspaper assets Bezos is getting also include a development group, and both buyer and seller have agreed to a close working relationship after the deal closes.

Closed off from the demands of shareholders, Bezos will have his own fortune and The Post assets to play with.

Of course, this covers only what technology and news experts today can anticipate as the starting points for Amazon-style thinking to infect The Post, and even those might take years to emerge. But the sheer amount of tinkering could rise to new heights, Mutter said.

“It will probably be one of the most elaborate and forward-thinking skunkworks in the modern world of publishing,” Mutter said. “He could be the Gutenberg of our time.”

Obama’s trump card on immigration

The President Can Push Ahead without Congress.
by Nelson Peacock via op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

President Obama is tantalizingly close to passing comprehensive immigration reform, a legacy achievement. The Senate has provided a bipartisan bill, and the House is working on reform. The key issues are border security and a legal pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million who are here illegally.

The political reasons for the House to negotiate a deal are many. A recent Gallup poll showed that 87% of Americans support comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. Moreover, growing numbers of Latino voters in key states turned out in historic numbers for Obama in last year’s election, which strongly suggests that, in the long run, Republicans need to address this constituency or continue to lose votes.

However, Speaker John A. Boehner, the Republican’s point man in the House, doesn’t have the luxury of operating in the long term. The conservative bloc of House Republicans is digging in against reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, and with what promises to be a bloody spending fight with Democrats looming, the speaker needs to strengthen his position with his conference.

It’s no wonder the speaker has instructed his committee chairmen to send up smaller, incremental bills for consideration, with a final decision on the path forward to come this fall.

Regardless of what Boehner and the committee chairmen come up with, most of the millions of unauthorized immigrants here now will almost surely stay because it is expensive and time-consuming to deport them. The immigration enforcement system is currently funded to deport roughly 400,000 immigrants a year, funding that’s unlikely to increase in difficult budgetary times, and it can take years to get many cases in front of immigration judges.

In part for those reasons, the Department of Homeland Security does not treat all deportations equally. In recent years, the agency has expanded its use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement, focusing on recent border crossings and public safety threats. Today, deportations of immigrants with strong connections to the U.S. are unlikely.

Indeed, prosecutorial discretion is a guiding principle of this administration’s immigration enforcement policy. With it, the administration has moved immigration enforcement from an ad hoc system in which individuals are removed indiscriminately to one that prioritizes criminals, recent border crossers and fugitives. In 2012, 96% of all removals were based on these priorities. Opponents of the policy call it amnesty, but with limited resources, it’s obvious why an agency charged with protecting the homeland is focusing its deportation efforts on national security and public safety.

For Obama, expanding prosecutorial discretion in deportations has been good policy and politics. It might just be the trump card he needs to bring House Republicans to the negotiating table.

Last summer, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which established the first program in which a subset of those here illegally could come forward and register with the government. If you were brought here as a child, are currently in school or the military and have no criminal record, you can get protection from deportation and you can petition for work authorization.

This program, aimed at so-called Dreamers, triggered a wave of enthusiasm in the Latino community, and many political analysts believe it helped the president weather 50% disapproval ratings last summer and win a historic 75% of the Latino vote in November. Nearly 520,000 people have received relief under this program since it was announced.

Now the president should turn again to this playbook and expand the program to other sympathetic categories of immigrants, such as those with a longtime presence in the United States or those with U.S.-citizen family members. The legal parameters and operational protocols have been established, and because this program, like the original Deferred Action program, would be funded from immigrants’ fees, it would not require a congressional appropriation. An expanded Deferred Action program could be up and running within weeks.

Of course, those committed to defeating reform would trot out the tired criticism that the president doesn’t enforce the laws on the books. They conveniently forget that both parties share the blame for the current system, and they ignore the record-low estimates of border crossing attempts and the record-high number of deportations. (A recent Pew Hispanic Center analysis found net migration from Mexico has fallen to zero in recent years.) Nothing the administration does would change their minds.

It is a near-certainty that expansion of prosecutorial discretion will occur if the House defeats all reform efforts or the House and Senate can’t reach an agreement. Perhaps the president can force negotiations by reminding critics that, in the absence of real reform, a president — any party’s president — still has to govern. For Boehner and the House GOP, the alternative to negotiating would be expanding “amnesty” without any of the security and business enhancements that the Republicans want and the nation desperately needs.

If the president acts boldly, he might be able to wrest a bill from Congress that could establish his legacy and, more important, secure the real immigration policy changes this country needs.

Nelson Peacock is a vice president with Cornerstone Government Affairs in Washington and the former assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.