House Republicans probably came to this conclusion on their own yesterday, but Donald Trump made the point plain anyway. As GOP leadership pushed off a vote on immigration reform into next week, the president told them not to bother at all:
It’s not as though they need much discouragement. The immigration-reform effort looked like a trainwreck in very slow motion at close of business yesterday anyway:
House leaders abruptly postponed a vote Thursday on a broad immigration bill intended to unite GOP moderates and conservatives, acknowledging they lack the votes to pass the measure despite a growing uproar over separating migrant families at the border.
A fractious GOP conference and President Trump’s equivocations hamstrung leadership as they tried to rally support for their Republicans-only bills. The vote was delayed until next week on the bill that would provide $25 billion for Trump’s long-sought border wall, offer a pathway to citizenship to young undocumented immigrants and keep migrant families together in detention centers.
In fact, it’s gotten so bad that they’re going back to the drawing board to come up with a compromise of a compromise. At that point, Trump still seemed to be on board:
In a last-ditch effort, Trump called Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) late Thursday and said he backed the broad bill. Goodlatte delivered the president’s message in a rushed, closed-door GOP meeting, but it did little to persuade opponents.
Key negotiators left the meeting more than an hour later and told reporters they would spend the coming days exploring whether they could find a way to add two elements of the hard-line bill — one requiring employers to screen workers for legal status using a federal database, another dealing with visas for agricultural workers — to the compromise in a bid to win more conservative votes.
The problem, as Trump himself noted yesterday, isn’t the House — although they’re certainly not having much luck in reaching an agreement amongst themselves. The real problem will come if/when the House passes a bill and sends it to the Senate. There isn’t much appetite for broad or even moderately comprehensive immigration reform in the upper chamber. Ted Cruz called the whole effort “idiocy” in a midterm election season, arguing that they’d be better off narrowly focusing on the family-separation issue instead. (I’ll have more on that in a later post.)
Trump blew off steam about the filibuster again yesterday in response to this standoff, but Cruz’ remarks and the lack of cohesion between House Republicans negates that case. Even a somewhat modest tradeoff as presented in Paul Ryan’s “compromise” bill couldn’t make it out of the House. It’s tough to see where a comprehensive immigration package would get 50 votes, let alone 60, in the Senate. Republicans can roll the dice and hope they keep control of the House after the midterms, but it’s getting very clear that House Republicans aren’t going to roll the dice on pointless exercises while the Senate can’t even muster a simple majority to back them up.
In this case, Trump’s correct. It’s better to narrowly focus on fixing the outcomes of tough border enforcement for now, which should have been the focus last year to prepare for the zero-tolerance policy.