Heck: Will he or won't he on immigration reform?

Earlier today, The Washington Post’s liberal blogger, Greg Sargent, seemed quite excited by Rep. Joe Heck’s pro-immigration reform remarks at a SXSW panel in Las Vegas.

But I am one of those Sargent describes who “will probably dismiss the significance of this, since Heck represents a district that went for Obama in 2012.” Yes, and for other reasons, too, including: He's said it before. And to The Washington Post!

But there's more:

►Sargent is right that this is less interesting because Heck is in one of the top targeted districts in the country and expected to carefully calibrate his position. But it’s more than that – the Hispanic population of CD3 is 16 percent and the Asian population is 15 percent. Heck knows immigration reform matters as an issue in the district. He can’t be Steve King.

►Sargent acknowledges that Heck has said it before, but emphasizes that this was a bigger audience. (Heck is one of those rare pols who doesn't tailor his message very well, which drives some of his consultants batty.) Sargent's colleague, Ed O’Keefe, found out where Heck was on this issue more than a month ago. “I think there are reasonable steps that the Senate bill puts into place,” Heck told O’Keefe of a path to citizenship, almost exactly what he said today. And O’Keefe extracted a lot of detail from Heck, whom he noted knows the issue inside and out, on what he likes and doesn’t like.

►Generally, Heck is not a hard guy to read, although some might say he is too dogmatic, pedantic even. And I bet some of his advisers are driven crazy by what the congressman thinks is a logical stance but one that is politically precarious. Good case in point: His vote in June for the aforementioned Mr. King’s bill to deport the DREAMers by cutting off the program the president initiated dueling his re-election bid. One transparent political move deserves another? Heck could very well reason that this was the wrong approach by the president, that Obama should have waited for congressional enactment of the DREAM Act and so on. But he has now created an issue -- out of stubborness? -- that the Left will pound him on from now until November 2014.

►Sargent sounds an optimistic note for reform when he writes, “Having even a few House Republicans going all the way to the point where they’re embracing the pathway in the Senate bill in these terms — as Heck does above — can only help, and raises the possibility that the debate may be edging in reform’s direction.” Well…maybe. As I said, this is not a recess-town-hall conversion for Heck. He’s been here for awhile, whether you believe it’s pandering because of his district or how he really feels. The real issue here is process. Heck has said he opposes the Senate bill because of the border enforcement provisions, as have other Republicans, and a few other items. But here’s what I think: If the Senate bill came to the floor, Heck would vote for it, despite what he says now. I can hear it: “I don’t like all of what’s in this bill, but considering how important this is to…..” But we’ll never know. So now Heck is stuck hoping his leaders will figure out a way to get him some YES votes on reform that he can brag about next year…..

►After he posted, Sargent clearly got some pushback from liberals, who pound Heck almost daily in that key district. He posted an update reminding folks Heck opposes the Senate bill -- and if you don't support that legislation, you must be against immigration reform, right? But then Sargent pushed back on the whiners by saying Heck’s position “contains the seeds of consensus and indeed represents a level of engagement on the issue that goes above and beyond what Dems had hoped to hear from House Republicans.” (Liberal blogger defends conservative congressman! Stop the presses!)

Those who want immigration reform – including groups such as the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada that loves to hate Heck – won’t be satisfied, no matter what the congressman says or does. But Heck declared Monday, and he has said before, that he favors a path to citizenship.

The only question is whether he will ever get a chance to prove it.