07/14/2013 07:55 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2013

To Speaker Boehner on Immigration: You Can Do Better


Dear Speaker Boehner,

Right about now, I can only assume that you're chanting the Winston Churchill mantra, "If you're going through hell, keep going." And boy, it sure seems that your job is hellish indeed.

From Nancy Pelosi's digs that you run a messy House, to Eric Cantor's badly concealed desire to throw you down the Capitol steps, not to mention dealing with the Bedlam Caucus (aka the Tea Party), which seems focused on antagonizing large swaths of American voters you'll need in 2014 to keep the House - Wow. No wonder people on the Hill whisper that your Camel Ultra Lights habit is hitting overdrive.

And then, there is the circle of hell called immigration reform. Who knew these Hispanics could be so insistent? Without mobilizing millions of people on the streets as they did in 2007, Hispanics have tapped into the 21st-century bullhorn that is social media with their message: Pass immigration reform or adios GOP.

How many times do you have to hear that Hispanics are the country's "largest minority"? The "fastest growing" group of voters? Do you need to be reminded again that 50,000 American Latinos turn 18 every month -- and that they'll never forgive the Republican Party for treating immigrants like refuse that should be flushed from the country? (Your chant undoubtedly also includes a line about "Please make Steve King shut up.")

Then there are the Republicans who want to win future elections. People like John McCain and Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, who nod their heads on Sunday morning TV and predict that the GOP is doomed if immigration reform fails. And all of them expressing their "confidence" that you, Mr. Speaker, will in the end be able to put a solution together. They exude that confidence on-air but offstage, their media handlers murmur variations of "Boehner is weak, he's a hostage to the Tea Party wackos. He's too afraid of ending up like Morsi to stand up to the Tea Party crowd."

On the plus side, Democrats like you! I know, it came as a surprise to me, too. Without irony, or a sense of back-handed compliment, they lament that you're too nice to break heads.

Unlike your predecessors, Republican and Democrat, you seem unable to plant your foot firmly on the neck of a rebel and make an example of him for defying your best-laid plans.

You're not scary -- generally a great quality in a human being, but not so great for the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi can melt a member of her caucus with one, sharp look. Your winks and smiles are just nice. Not to mention your tears.

But you can do better.

In the pending immigration reform deal, in which your far-right colleagues have actually passed a Romney-style "self-deportation" bill in the Judiciary Committee as a response to the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill, there is hope. The radicalism of their actions represents the opening that you need.

A recent Gallup survey showed that 87 percent of all Americans support immigration reform with a path toward earned citizenship. Even 86 percent of Republicans share that view. Several pollsters have tracked Congress' approval ratings near 10 percent -- less popular with Americans than bed bugs or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Having an open vote of the House on immigration, and in the process abandoning the fetishistic, self-defeating "Hastert Rule," would free you to lead. Not only would you be rescued from the hostage-taking of the Tea Party, you'd be offering Americans -- 87 percent of Americans -- exactly what they want.

You would be a hero to millions of people sick and tired of the mind-numbing dysfunction in Washington. You could usher in a whole new era of Congressional primacy - and in the process restore the institutional respect that Congress needs in order to effectively govern.

Perhaps you think you'll be overthrown if you defy the Tea Party. Again, Churchill: He famously chastised a weak British politician by exclaiming, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

You've tried to appease the Tea Party over the last four years, and what have you gotten for it? A constant threat of being deposed if you defy the will of a faction that is so focused on a minoritarian agenda that it could very well bring down the Grand Old Party.

So you can continue to appease the crocodile, but eventually, if not on immigration but on some other matter of critical national importance, the crocodile, with some help from Cantor and his gang, will snap shut its jaws and end your speakership.

Fight, Mr. Speaker! Knock some heads, make some crocodile boots and pass immigration reform. Not only will you help America thrive by fixing a broken immigration system, you'll also help a powerful institution recapture the respect of the American people.

And you will help yourself by exerting strength and power and the moral authority to check the White House, while having positioned the GOP as a party with a future.