Will Dems 'go for it' on immigration reform? 

Across Capitol Hill, Republicans are asking just one question about Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: Are they really going to do it?

Will the president, the speaker, and the majority leader try to pass "comprehensive" immigration reform in a midterm election year that already threatens to be a disaster for Democrats?

The question comes after reports top Democrats believe they have a "moral imperative" to pursue an immigration deal and are setting aside energy and environmental legislation (which had major problems of its own) to do it.

Whatever they choose, Obama, Pelosi and Reid seem to be driven by a desire to avoid, not confront, the voters' top priority, which is the economy and jobs. By huge margins, Americans want their leaders to concentrate on getting people back to work. While it's not quite true to say that nothing else matters, the fact is, nothing else matters nearly as much.

Just to cite one poll, although there are many, many more: In mid-April, when the New York Times asked people to name the most important problem facing the country, the economy came in first, with 50 percent. Health care came in second, with 8 percent, and after that came the deficit, with 5 percent. Immigration was named by 1 percent of the poll's respondents.

"The problem Obama has is that any time he is not talking about jobs, he's on the wrong topic," says Republican pollster David Winston. "And trying to bring up particularly divisive issues, like immigration, at this point makes the situation worse."

Besides, wasn't Obama supposed to have finished his much-touted "pivot" to the economy about now? "I don't get it," continues Winston, reflecting the views of many Republicans. "I don't understand what he is doing. He's not addressing the number-one issue that Americans want him to address."

The White House would say the president's push for new financial regulation -- sorry, "Wall Street reform" -- does just that. Some Democrats even believe they can make it the defining issue of the campaign. And yes, when new financial regulations are passed, Obama can say he has put in place measures to help prevent future collapses, even though Republicans make a pretty persuasive case that it won't work.

But what about people who don't have jobs now? And what if Obama does turn to immigration reform? Here's a prediction: It will be unpopular, it will divide his party, and it will remind everyone that his priorities are not the public's.

A comprehensive immigration bill went down in flames just three years ago. The conventional wisdom is that it split the Republican Party, but the truth is, it split both parties. In the Senate vote that killed the McCain-Kennedy bill, 34 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted to move the measure forward, while 37 Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to block it. Which party was divided? Both of them.

On the GOP side, there's no reason to think there will be any more support now. "You had a Republican president and you couldn't get Republicans on board and there was five percent unemployment," says one GOP Senate aide. "Now you've got a Democratic president, a more liberal bill, and unemployment is near ten percent."

As for the Democrats, the aide asks: "Having voted for a health care bill that's toxic, having voted for the biggest deficits ever, will they then turn around and vote for an amnesty bill? I just don't think they will do it."

So why are Obama, Pelosi and Reid going forward? There are five possible explanations.

1) They've lost their minds.

2) They are very smart and know something we don't.

3) They're out of touch with the public's concerns.

4) They want to be able to tell the most ardent supporters of reform that they tried.

5) They're fully aware that the public doesn't want "comprehensive" reform but are racing to do as much as they can before the elections take away their power to defy the public's wishes.

The first possibility is highly unlikely. The second is less so, but still pretty unlikely. The third is plausible, but not probable. The fourth is arguable. And the fifth? It makes a lot of sense, especially in light of the Obamacare experience.

Not long ago, in another context, the president challenged Republicans to "Go for it." Don't be surprised if the GOP tells him the same thing this time.

Byron York, the Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appears on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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