Although the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform by 68-32, and got some Republican votes, that outcome just serves to illustrate the differences between the chambers. Senators represent entire states and are more likely to have diverse constituencies. Serving six years instead of two, they have longer time horizons. And some of them – for instance, Republican Marco Rubio of Florida – are potentially eying presidential campaigns in which they will seek Hispanic support. By contrast, no current House members seem ready to run for president.
The bill got most of its votes from the Senate’s Democratic majority. Though GOP support was important, 32 of 46 Republicans still voted no. Accordingly, the Senate vote will have little political sway with the House’s Republican majority.
Speaker Boehner and the other top House Republicans must envy Frank Underwood, the Machiavellian party whip that Kevin Spacey plays on the television political series "House of Cards." Rep. Underwood can bully other lawmakers into submission and maneuver the White House into doing his bidding.
Real-world party leadership carries less clout than the Netflix version. Whereas Underwood has a vast supply of rewards and punishments, actual leaders have only limited power over such things as campaign contributions. Years ago, they could help members get appropriations for specific local projects, but the House has now banned the use of these earmarks.
Ironically, sincerity presents problems for congressional leaders. In Underwood’s TV world, it’s easy to buy people because everybody is for sale: even his wife’s environmental group is a scam. In reality, political motivations are a complex mix of self-interest and public interest. Many politicians on all sides of the immigration debate really believe in what they’re saying, so it’s hard to move them with political favors alone.
What’s more, each side sincerely suspects the others of insincerity. Democrats think that nativism lurks beneath GOP concern for border security, while Republicans think that Democrats want to rush aliens into citizenship so that they can quickly become Democratic voters.