When Republicans took full control of Congress, the political media fell all over itself declaring that now the GOP must finally prove that it can govern. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, Republicans have fallen into the familiar pattern of fighting bruising internal battles over bills that have no chance of becoming law — a strategy that may be about to blow up in their faces.
From its first days, it became clear that the 114th Congress would look an awful lot like the 113th edition.
“Week 1, we had the vote for the Speaker. Week 2, we debated deporting children. Week 3, we’re debating rape and incest,” moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) lamented in late January. “I just can’t wait for Week 4.”
Week 4 and beyond have been just about as disastrous as Dent feared. As a result of December’s “CRomnibus” bill to fund the federal government, Congress has just over two weeks left before funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out on February 27 — a timeframe that gets even tighter, given Congress’ plan to recess during the week of Presidents’ Day. As of yet, there’s no indication that congressional leadership has any plan to prevent the DHS from shutting down.
On January 14, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide $40 billion to keep the department running. But it would also block inplementation of President Obama’s November executive action shielding over 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, along with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects young immigrants who arrived in the country as children.
In other words, it has absolutely no chance of passing the Senate — something that the upper chamber has proven on three separate occasions.
So as Republicans point fingers about who’s to blame for their current predicament — even Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) acknowledges that they’re playing a losing hand — they’re left with very few attractive options.
They could pass a clean bill to fund the DHS without fighting President Obama’s executive orders — but that would require a minority of Republicans to partner with Democrats, and would likely spark a revolt within the party’s right-wing base, which has been promised an all-out war against the president’s unilateral immigration actions.
They could let the DHS shut down (the favored option of a surprising number of congressmen who don’t believe Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s dire warnings that such a move could jeopardize national security). But in addition to being bad policy, this would be terrible politics; as Republicans should have learned during their 2013 shutdown debacle, President Obama will not give in to such an attempt to extort policy changes they are unable to legislate. Furthermore, the American public is extremely unlikely to buy the GOP’s “Democrats are the ones who really want a shutdown” reasoning. And perhaps most importantly, shutting down the DHS would do absolutely nothing to stop President Obama’s immigration actions. In other words, Republicans have no leverage in this fight.
Or Republicans could join with Democrats to pass a clean, short-term funding bill, and fight this battle all over again in a few weeks or months.
That may ultimately be the most likely outcome to the standoff, but it would do nothing to solve the GOP’s root problem on immigration: They have no real reform policy. Since the Senate’s bipartisan reform bill derailed in 2013, Republicans have generally stuck to vague talking points about securing the border, while obliquely promising to deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible (despite having no plan on how they’d actually do so, or how they’d pay the nearly $25 billion tab for a mass deportation without violating their various pledges to balance the budget and shrink the deficit).
Until Republicans come up with a serious policy that goes past opposing President Obama, they will continue to be unable to act on immigration without returning to deadline-induced drama and intra-party warfare.
Immigration remains a genuine political crisis for the GOP — and it’s not going away.
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