Andrea Mitchell: Immigration Reform Would Be 'Jewel in the Crown' of Obama Presidency

On her 1 p.m. ET hour MSNBC show on Thursday, host Andrea Mitchell saw immigration reform as a way to save Barack Obama's floundering presidency: "This would be, you know, the jewel in the crown for this administration, they've had so few legacy things that have not been complicated. Health care is obviously complicated by the downsides. Immigration would be the real key to this second term." [Listen to the audio]

Liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus agreed: "It would be the jewel in the crown of an otherwise rocky second term..."

Mitchell began the immigration discussion by contemptuously describing the Republican position on the issue: "John Boehner today...coming out and saying that his caucus, his Republican caucus cannot trust the President of the United States to follow the law. Therefore, if there's going to be any immigration deal, they want to make sure that border security is being enforced first, before they go onto the rest of it."

Another member of The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza, explained:

I talked to a top Republican House aide just before I came on....And basically the point was that – you can take this for what it's worth but this is their argument – is that it is a trust issue, it is not a principles issue....the issue is, as you point out, the idea that President Obama cannot be trusted to effectively enforce the border security provisions, which is a sort of absolute starting point for many House Republicans, not just the most conservative House Republicans, but many House Republicans.

In addition to agreeing with Mitchell that an immigration deal would be a "jewel in the crown" for Obama, Marcus also argued: "...it would be jewel in the crown for Republicans. Which is why I think a lot of this bluster right now over lawless Obama, you're hearing that a lot from various people."     
Mitchell interjected: "It feels like base settling." Marcus continued: "It's a little bit kind of, 'We hear you, we're kind of puffing out our chests and we're announcing that we're going to be tough'....Republicans, including Speaker Boehner, would really like to see some kind of deal. So this may be as much a 'settle down base' move as anything else."  

Here is a transcript of the February 6 exchange:

1:11PM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: And I also wanted to talk about some of the other issues, immigration. John Boehner today, Chris Cillizza, coming out and saying that his caucus, his Republican caucus cannot trust the President of the United States to follow the law. Therefore, if there's going to be any immigration deal, they want to make sure that border security is being enforced first, before they go onto the rest of it. But at the same time, many members of the Democratic caucus are very concerned that there have been too many deportations, record numbers of deportations from Homeland Security, starting with Janet Napolitano and preceding the current Homeland chief. So where does that – where does the President find running room here?

CHRIS CILLIZZA [WASHINGTON POST]: Right. Well, I talked to a top Republican House aide just before I came on, Andrea, because I figured we'd talk about it. And basically the point was that – you can take this for what it's worth but this is their argument – is that it is a trust issue, it is not a principles issue.

Because the question I asked was, a week ago we were at the Republican retreat and a set of principles were put out that included a path to legal status, which cheered many immigration reform advocates, that this – if this blue print worked, there would be real agreement and the possibility of reform. That the principles aren't the issue, the issue is, as you point out, the idea that President Obama cannot be trusted to effectively enforce the border security provisions, which is a sort of absolute starting point for many House Republicans, not just the most conservative House Republicans, but many House Republicans.

I would also say, I don't think this is absolutely the end of the road, put all the bills away, this could never happen. I think this was always a very narrow possibility no matter how it was covered. I think it remains a very narrow possibility, but still a possibility.

MITCHELL: And Ruth, this would be, you know, the jewel in the crown for this administration, they've had so few legacy things that have not been complicated. Health care is obviously complicated by the downsides. Immigration would be the real key to this second term.

RUTH MARCUS [WASHINGTON POST]: It would be the jewel in the crown of an otherwise rocky second term and it would be jewel in the crown for Republicans. Which is why I think a lot of this bluster right now over lawless Obama, you're hearing that a lot from various people.

MITCHELL: It feels like base settling.

MARCUS: And the need for enforcement. It's a little bit kind of, "We hear you, we're kind of puffing out our chests and we're announcing that we're going to be tough." But there's also simultaneously, and as Chris mentioned, signs that not just this White House, but that Republicans, including Speaker Boehner, would really like to see some kind of deal. So this may be as much a "settle down base" move as anything else. Now whether it riles up the base or settles them down is open to question.

MITCHELL: Every time you round down one, you-

CILLIZZA: And, Andrea, just one quick point – sorry, one quick point to add to Ruth's argument here. Remember that the debt ceiling increase is in this mix too. That the idea that there's the possibility that a clean debt ceiling increase is the only thing that can happen that would obviously need Democratic votes, the conservative base of the Republican Party within the House is not going to like the idea of John Boehner bringing it up. This may be a way to show him, "Hey, look, I'm tacking more conservative on immigration." Those two things, I think you can't decouple them.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much, Chris Cillizza. Not to decouple you guys, ever. Ruth Marcus, thank you very much.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.