John Thune: We're not going to shut down Homeland Security in February over executive amnesty

In that case, I have no idea what the point of the “cromnibus” was. Remember that? That was Boehner’s compromise with Obama and Reid on spending that passed last month. It had two parts, one of which would fund the federal government except for Homeland Security through most of next year and the other of which would fund Homeland Security itself only through part of February. That was a concession to conservative anger over O’s executive amnesty. If Obama doesn’t suspend his amnesty before then, the theory went, the new GOP Congress will refuse to pass new funding for DHS next month, forcing a shutdown of (non-essential) personnel in that department and supposedly stopping Obama’s amnesty cold. Now here’s Thune saying that Congress needs to use the power of the purse to rein Obama in … while also insisting that they won’t shut down DHS after all, which I guess means the “cromnibus” was a big fat lie. What power does the purse have if you’re not willing to use it here?

No surprise, though. The name of the game for McConnell and his deputies, eyeing 2016, is to not do anything “scary” that might give swing voters jitters about electing a Republican president.

“I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority,” the Kentucky Republican said in a broad interview just before Christmas in his Capitol office…

“There would be nothing frightening about adding a Republican president to that governing majority,” McConnell said, explaining how he wants voters to view the party on the eve of the 2016 election. “I think that’s the single best thing we can do, is to not mess up the playing field, if you will, for whoever the nominee ultimately is.”

No sudden moves. Here’s Roger Wicker, another man who’s thinking hard about 2016 as the new chairman of the NRSC, discussing immigration on CNN yesterday:

BASH: Right but let’s just talk politics. He did it. He did what he did on executive — with his executive action because the Congress didn’t move. So — WICKER: Well —

BASH: But given your job to keep Republicans in control, and obviously I’m guessing you want a Republican in the White House, do you need to move forward on this issue once and for all?

WICKER: I think the first thing we’ll do is a strong border security bill. And frankly, that’s why I think Speaker Boehner didn’t take it up in the House last term is because he didn’t have confidence that the administration would actually enforce the border security part of it. But I think once we do that, we will have a debate in this term of Congress about what to do with those children who came through no decision of their own and what’s the best way to handle that issue. I think we’ll have that debate.

Bash brought up executive amnesty. Nothing here from Wicker about trying to block it.

Three possibilities on Thune’s comments, then. One: Maybe McConnell’s concluded that the “no sudden moves” strategy, culminating in a GOP White House win, is the only foolproof way to get rid of executive amnesty. If the new Republican Senate majority goes to war with O to try to force him to defund his own executive order, they stand to lose much more than he does. He’s a lame duck; he’s not going to defang his signature “legacy” move towards Latinos by signing a GOP bill that would block it, no matter how painful a veto might be. He can afford a standoff with the GOP on this issue. McConnell and Wicker arguably can’t, not only because it would blow up the “don’t be scary” message but because it might anger the Latino voters whom they’re hoping to appeal to next year. McConnell knows he’ll have to cave, in which case it’s better to play the long game and sit still until a Republican is in the White House. The flaw in that theory, of course, is that not even a Republican successor to Obama will rescind his executive order. The fear of alienating Latinos will be too great. What’ll happen instead is that Congress will pass an immigration reform deal that essentially ratifies O’s amnesty while providing some new border security measures to make conservatives tolerate it. And the new president will sign that happily, especially if his name rhymes with “Beb Jush.”

Two: Maybe Wicker’s tipping their hand in talking up a security-only bill. McConnell might be thinking that the GOP can get away with letting Obama slide on executive amnesty if, and only if, they do something to address conservative immigration concerns right up front. Solution: Pass a bill that focuses exclusively on tightening the border while quietly promising Obama that if he signs it, they’ll leave him alone about legalizing illegals. In fact, the border bill could be tied to funding for DHS in February, making it even harder for O to say no. None of this will or should comfort border hawks — it would mean a de facto GOP buy-in on executive amnesty and would, effectively, amount to comprehensive immigration reform through the back door, with the security part done by legislation and the legalization part done by the president. But it may be coming. And Democrats would be suckers to object by demanding that the GOP pass a legalization bill too; again, the politics of this issue will ensure that not even a Republican successor will dare revoke O’s order. It’s as good as law thanks to America’s changing demographics.

Three: Maybe Thune’s hinting that they’re only going to defund part of DHS in February, not the whole department. That makes sense politically, as “REPUBLICANS SHUT DOWN NATIONAL SECURITY” headlines won’t fly for the GOP. So they’ll fund everything except specific immigration agencies inside DHS, thereby hobbling O’s amnesty while allowing them to say that the department writ large got its money. Although, in that case, why didn’t they do that in the first place last month as part of the “cromnibus”? Why put all of DHS in jeopardy if you’re only going to carve up a tiny sliver?