It is an odd fight. Such a weird little battle over meaningless and known outcomes. Conservatives, aware because of press reports and congressional leaks, knew what would be in the Paul Ryan-drafted budget plan. The conservative groups released statements in opposition to the plan based on what they had been told. But there was never any doubt about the Ryan plan passing.
After the plan was publicly unveiled by the Republicans at 6 o'clock on a Tuesday night, conservative fears were realized. Those things they knew would be in the plan were, in fact, in the plan. The plan funded Obamacare. The plan raised taxes. The plan broke the sequestration spending limits that, only a month before, Republican leaders had said would never be broken.
Speaker Boehner then did something curious. He held two press conferences wherein he lashed out at conservative groups. He denounced them for making up their minds before the plan was publicly unveiled. Never mind that everyone knew what would be in the plan. Never mind that he only gave the public 36 hours to explore the text of the plan -- a violation of a campaign promise to give at least 72 hours of examination. Speaker Boehner's statement sounded like former Speaker Pelosi claiming we had to pass the Ryan plan to find out what was in the Ryan plan.
Superficially, it is a very odd fight. But Speaker Boehner's crocodile tears in his attacks and cries against the conservative movement are really about the next fight. Speaker Boehner intends to pursue immigration reform, with an amnesty component. Before he gets there, he needs to shape battle lines.
There are a number of fence sitters on the right. Speaker Boehner needs them on his team. By castigating the conservative movement now and making them the unpopular crowd, the Speaker and Republican leaders intend to draw the fence sitters to them. Once they have done so, they can move on to a primary season where they can fight against the unpopular crowd intent on driving some incumbents from office.
Then the real fight will begin -- immigration reform. The Speaker assumes he can marginalize conservatives through primary season, make conservatives unpopular, then push through an amnesty-based immigration reform plan, daring his tenuous coalition to move over to the unpopular kids' table.
While conservatives and much of the rest of the country are scratching their heads over Speaker John Boehner's temper tantrums this week, the Speaker is laying the ground work for his legacy -- he will be the man who gets immigration reform through the House of Representatives. He is already staffing up on this front.
Rebecca Tallent is the Speaker's new immigration policy director. Until last week, Ms. Tallent served as the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Before that, she worked for Senator John McCain as his Chief of Staff. Ms. Tallent helped Senators McCain and Kennedy formulate their amnesty-based immigration plan in 2007. Before that, she worked for former Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, helping him with plans to overhaul the American immigration system.
It would be very unusual for Speaker Boehner to bring on Ms. Tallent, given her background, unless he was ready to go forward with immigration reform. Likewise, it would be unusual, given her background for Ms. Tallent to go work for someone not interested in comprehensive immigration reform.
Speaker Boehner, for all his faults, has been skillfully maneuvering pieces on the chessboard getting ready for this fight. He may have clowned himself with his unusual temper tantrums this week, but it is for a greater good in his mind. Many have speculated this will be his last congressional session as Speaker. He denies it, but given the fractious nature of his Speakership, it would not be surprising. Any Speaker would want to go out with a legacy heralded by the media. Immigration would do that for John Boehner.
Fence sitters in the Republican Party should be careful, lest they wind up working against their own goals in the next fight.