After a chaotic afternoon, which saw the GOP leadership suddenly pull their [border crisis] legislation from the House floor because of flagging support, lawmakers planned a Friday morning meeting at 9 a.m. to try to plot a path forward. Plans are in flux, and subject to change at any minute, aides and lawmakers warned.
In a Thursday afternoon meeting, Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) heard from a number of Republicans who did not want to leave Washington until a package passed the House — a sentiment reflected by nearly every lawmaker who emerged after the meeting ended…
The turmoil is stunning considering how far to the right the GOP leadership pulled this bill. Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise, the new GOP whip, crafted a process that would have given the House a vote on legislation to stop the Obama administration from expanding its deferred deportation program. But even that wasn’t enough…
The political impact of this decision is not clear, but if the House doesn’t vote, Democrats will be able to say that the GOP left Washington for an entire month without passing legislation to address the influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Boehner’s decision to punt on the border bill set off a wild scene on the House floor during a vote on the highway bill. Dozens of moderate and mainstream conservative Republicans, furious with the far-right Republicans who torpedoed the legislation, surrounded Boehner and newly minted Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), demanding that they not leave town without voting on immigration legislation…
“America did not send us here to do nothing,” said Rep. Steve Southerland II (R-Fla.), a junior member of the leadership team facing a tough November election.
Inside the meeting, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) vowed that if need be, he would miss his son’s upcoming wedding to stay in Washington to pass the bill.
But other lawmakers were punchy.
“Well, let’s see, I’ve been bitching about this for, what, 15 months? Democrats wants the votes and Republicans want cheap labor. They didn’t want to do anything with it, now they’re going to wait until the last minute? You know, I have a forum I’m supposed to be at, I can’t be, on this very subject,” Michigan Rep. Kerry Bentivolio said…
In the meeting, most Republicans expressed support for figuring out some way – any way – to pass a bill that is widely expected to go nowhere but was hoped to give the GOP a political advantage over the recess.
In fact, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, told ABC News that he was at the airport when he was summoned back to the Capitol for a closed-door GOP meeting. Rogers said it became clear this morning the conservative defections were growing, but he said he and others believe the House should vote — up or down — on immigration.
“I would like to see us have a vote,” Rogers said in an interview.
There is an unusual air of uncertainty in the Capitol, mixed with a big dose of dysfunction, as rank-and-file Republicans discuss whether to have a vote on immigration before they go home for August recess.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, told ABC News that he believes lawmakers need to vote. Leaving town without doing so, he said, will be difficult to explain to constituents. He supports the immigration bill.
Republicans have been repeatedly criticized for not offering a governing agenda if they take power. What happened Thursday underscores why that has been so difficult. Getting the party’s factions on the same page has proved more than difficult. In some states where Republicans control the governorship and the legislature, there has been a backlash to their governing agenda. Kansas and North Carolina are two prime examples.
In Congress, Republicans have spent four years attacking the Affordable Care Act with a series of votes to repeal or defund it. But is there a Republican alternative they are collectively promoting this fall? No. Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) told reporters at a breakfast held by the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday that he is working on one — but that it is just one of several GOP ideas on health care.
House Republican leaders say Democrats are hypocritical to blame them for the gridlock and chaos. They point to a series of bills approved with Democratic support that are parked in the Senate with no action. They say Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) should let senators vote on them. But by their own high-voltage missteps, they draw attention away from that and to themselves. They reinforce a narrative that remains not in their favor.
(1) Politically speaking, it would be malpractice to skip town having done nothing on this issue — which everyone agrees is an acute, urgent crisis. Conservatives have not been bashful about labeling it as such, and for good reason. So Republicans’ table-pounding about the problem, and endless demands that President Obama go to the border to survey the situation, all looks like cynical, empty point-scoring if they then proceed to do literally nothing about it before heading home for a month. Members will be asked about this crisis over the break. Republicans need an answer to give beyond, “Obama and the Democrats are terrible, and this situation is intolerable.” They need to be able to say, “we’ve passed X bill that accomplishes Y and Z to alleviate the unacceptable status quo” — and then pivot to nailing Obama and the Democrats, etc, etc. Passing nothing would also led Reid off the hook for his shameless obstructionism, rather than applying appropriate pressure via passed legislation. There’s a reason why Reid has been doing everything within his power to derail Boehner’s bill, including floating theories explicitly designed to turn House Republicans against each other. Sprinting into his trap — again! — would be unfathomably stupid.
(2) On principle, Republicans (at least nominally) hold one of Congress’ two chambers. They’re asking voters to give them control of the other one, too. Yes, it’s true that Harry Reid has promised to kill the House proposal in the Senate and that Obama has issued a veto threat. In other words, even if the House passes something, it won’t become law. Shame on the Democrats for playing such myopic and cynical games. But that is not an excuse for Republicans to abandon attempts to govern. Complaining about the other side’s intransigence rings uniquely hollow when your own side can’t get its act together in support of any solution. If Republicans believe the border situation is a genuine and immediate crisis, they have an obligation to act.
The agony of the House border bill seems to have two causes:
1) It has too many substantive weaknesses and loopholes for a bill that is supposed to buttress enforcement (Ryan wrote about the critical Numbers USA analysis here; Bill Kristol noted a number of the problems in his “kill the bill” post here).
2) It fails to address the president’s looming lawlessness in his contemplated new DACA. It seems the bare minimum Republicans could ask for in a border bill would be a provision denying the president the ability to waive more immigration laws. Yet, leadership has been resistant about talking about Obama’s potential new DACA, let alone including anything on it in the bill. Under heavy conservative pressure, it promised a mostly symbolic stand-alone measure.
Heaven knows the leadership has had trouble passing other bills, and it may be that it still gets this one through. But it is clear that just the prospect of Obama’s new DACA is creating an urgency about responding to his lawlessness that it will be very hard for Republicans to ignore.
The House leaders are thus far insistent they will not close the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. They would rather be embarrassed in their failure to do anything than do the right thing and close this program.
They even had some Democrat support, but could not muster enough votes to give Barack Obama more money to cause more problems. So much for the new McCarthy-Scalise team.
This, by the way, is a big win for Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama Both Senators have come out forcefully against the House plan not including DACA. It appears enough Republicans in the House listened.
Think about this for a minute: House GOP Leadership would rather do nothing about the immigration problem than secure the border. Anything they passed would have been blocked by Harry Reid. Anything. Yet they were too scared to come out as the party that supports securing the border. So they scuttled the whole thing rather than take a position popular with the American public.
The president and the Senate leadership have made clear they’ll never accept it. So what’s the point of passing it? Leadership’s answer is—well, we’ll get credit for trying to do something. But will they? From whom? The mainstream media? Perhaps for one day. Then the media will focus on what further compromises the GOP leadership will accept in September, on why Republicans won’t go to conference with the original Senate bill or parts of it, and on splits in GOP ranks about immigration. GOP town halls during the August recess will be dominated by challenges about the merits of the bill leadership rushed through—challenges members won’t have an easy time answering and that Republican House and Senate challengers certainly don’t need to be dealing with. Rushing the bill through now will make what Republicans think and don’t think about immigration the lead topic for August. It will take the focus off what President Obama has done about immigration. Rushing through a poorly thought through GOP bill will take the focus off the man who is above all responsible for the disaster at the border—the president.
If the GOP does nothing, and if Republicans explain that there’s no point acting due to the recalcitrance of the president to deal with the policies that are causing the crisis, the focus will be on the president. Republican incumbents won’t have problematic legislation to defend or questions to answer about what further compromises they’ll make. Republican challengers won’t have to defend or attack GOP legislation. Instead, the focus can be on the president—on his refusal to enforce the immigration law, on the effect of his unwise and arbitrary executive actions in 2012, on his pending rash and illegal further executive acts in 2014, and on his refusal to deal with the real legal and policy problems causing the border crisis. And with nothing passed in either house (assuming Senate Republicans stick together and deny Harry Reid cloture today), immigration won’t dominate August—except as a problem the president is responsible for and refuses seriously to address. Meanwhile, the GOP can go on the offensive on a host of other issues.