Joel Gehrke has two sources who swear that Mike Lee and David Vitter were the only people in the room pressing for a discussion at this week’s lunch. (Not Cruz? Not Jeff Sessions?) That’s catnip to grassroots righties who are convinced, not without reason, that Boehner and McConnell would rather cave on executive amnesty than risk alienating Latinos by going to war with Obama over it.
Question, though: What leverage do Senate Republicans really have right now? What were we hoping would come out of this meeting?
“At different times, Lee and Vitter stood up and tried to begin a discussion about what the plan was and asked leadership about what their strategy was to deal with the spending bill and respond to Obama executive amnesty, and the reply was always an effort to try to change the subject to the ozone rule from the EPA or some other issue, and it was just bizarre,” said a second source in corroboration of that account.
“What made it bizarre was that it was like [Lee and Vitter] were standing up and speaking in Latin,” the source continued, saying that other senators would respond to the immigration-related remarks with “a bizarre attempt to segue into a different issue.”
Let’s pretend that, instead of ignoring the subject, Senate Republicans huddled and decided that they didn’t like Boehner’s “CRomnibus” idea. Funding Homeland Security for three months is too long a punt, they’d concluded; we should either fund it for a month, until right after the new Republican Senate is seated, or defund it right now and dare Obama to veto funding for the rest of the government in protest. Great! Now — why would Boehner care what they think? Senate Republicans will still be stuck in the minority when funding for the government runs out next week. And Boehner doesn’t have the luxury of trying to please them; his far bigger problem is pleasing House conservatives, who might defect over the “CRomnibus” en masse and deny him the majority he needs to pass the bill. If you believe Politico, there are already a dozen House Republicans prepared to vote no; if 18 more defect, which seems possible given the backlash on the right to the “CRomnibus” scheme, Boehner will be stuck with a minority. That would present him with a choice, to either make the bill more conservative and risk having Harry Reid and Senate Democrats block it or make the bill less conservative and have Pelosi get him the extra votes he needs to get to 218. The first option probably means a shutdown, the second option means enraging the GOP base and caving to Obama on amnesty at the very moment Republicans are set to take over Congress.
Long story short, Senate Republicans don’t matter much in this equation. If Boehner can get something through the House that’s acceptable to Reid, there’s no way a united Senate GOP caucus will filibuster it for being too RINO-y. And if Boehner passes something that Senate conservatives love, Reid and the Democrats are going to filibuster it themselves. The only obvious Senate Republican leverage here, I think, is for McConnell to warn Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership that if they drive too hard a bargain with Boehner now, they’ll pay for it starting next month when they’re back in the minority. Maybe he already has warned him (or, more likely, maybe he didn’t need to, as Reid would figure this out on his own). That would explain Dingy Harry’s surprising openness to the “CRomnibus.”
Anyway, lefty media is enjoying this immensely, as you might expect. Exit question: If the “CRomnibus” passes and the money for Homeland Security runs out in March, how long would Boehner and McConnell be willing to let the department go without funding in protest of Obama’s amnesty? The more I think about it, the more I think they’re going to use that standoff as a reason to introduce their own immigration bill(s). They won’t be able to cave completely to Obama without humiliating themselves, nor will Obama be able to rescind his executive order without infuriating his base. The face-saving move for both sides is to resolve the standoff by passing a mutually agreeable immigration bill or series of bills that would override Obama’s order. You trust B&M to drive a hard, border-enforcin’ bargain on that, don’t you?