House Republicans: Ted Cruz killed our amnesty

There’s no man or woman in red-state America these days with more power than Cruz to set a new conservative litmus test. But c’mon: How many of you need to be formally warned at this point by your favorite Republican that the House is looking to sell out border hawks on immigration reform? It’s like blaming Rand Paul for turning libertarians against the NSA. He plays a useful role in bringing attention to the issue, but those people turned on their own initiative ages ago. Same here.

Cruz won’t mind being blamed for this one, though.

House Republicans who supported the “principles” of immigration reform floated by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, late last month grumbled Tuesday that the plan was dead on arrival because Cruz blasted it as “amnesty,” spurring a blizzard of negative phone calls to House Republicans…

Later that day [on January 30th, when the House GOP released its immigration principles], while Boehner was closeted with colleagues miles from the nation’s capital, Cruz used back-to-back television appearances to invoke the politically charged word “amnesty” to characterize the legalization offered by Boehner’s plan.

By the time the GOP caucus broke up and Boehner headed back to Capitol Hill on Jan. 31, the House speaker was backtracking. Republican lawmakers so distrusted President Obama’s readiness to enforce any immigration law that GOP lawmakers would not support immigration reform before the 2014 midterm congressional elections in November, Boehner declared.

Asked about his influential remarks Tuesday, Cruz said the Boehner plan was “inconsistent with the rule of law” and “a political mistake,” adding that he was “glad to see Republicans in the House agreed.”

Would any tea-party Republicans in the House have embraced the leadership’s immigration plan if Cruz had kept quiet? It’s not pressure from big-name conservatives that keeps them in line, it’s the fact that they come from overwhelmingly red districts and know what backing amnesty would mean for their primary chances. The more interesting thought experiment is what would have happened if Cruz had shocked the world and declared that Boehner’s plan sounded promising. That might have shaken loose some conservative votes for amnesty; there’s no sturdier political cover on the right at the moment than being able to say that Ted Cruz supports your position. I wonder if he’s ever tempted to do it, if only to bigfoot rivals like Rubio and Rand Paul by showing them he can bring righties around on an immigration deal to an extent that they can’t. Or maybe he doubts that he even has that much cachet. If Rubio’s tea-party cred could be incinerated in one stroke by trying to lead on this issue, why on earth would Cruz touch it?

His next conservative venture, incidentally, is the State Marriage Defense Act, which he introduced with Mike Lee yesterday. That’s a response both to the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last year, striking down part of DOMA, and to Holder’s announcement earlier this week that the DOJ will begin acknowledging same-sex marriages as legitimate for federal legal purposes (e.g., invoking the spousal privilege during federal trials) regardless of whether the underlying state law recognizes them or not. Cruz’s and Lee’s bill would force the feds to follow state marriage law as guidance on that. It’s going nowhere in the Senate, needless to say, but it’s a smart bit of politics in both tackling a subject of social conservative concern and proposing a federalist solution to it that centrists can live with.