Republicans confirm their unseriousness about the border
Trump ordered Mike Johnson and company to punch themselves in the face and they obliged.
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In recent months, the Biden White House and Democrats in Congress have signaled readiness to accept a bipartisan border deal heavily tilted towards the GOP’s preferred punitive approach to asylum seekers and immigrants.
Progressive priorities, like a path to citizenship for undocumented people who came into the US as young children, aren’t even on the table. In part by tying border policy to aid for Ukraine and Israel and in part through incessant fear-mongering, Republicans are on the verge of enacting many of their priorities on immigration into law.
The one thing standing in their way? Their own divided party.
The GOP could have a policy victory. But they are a post-policy party, and prefer posturing and doing Trump’s bidding to governing.
In part, the GOP’s default to “no” is a strategy. Importantly in this case, former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, wants to rerun his 2016 campaign by making fear-mongering about migrants his signature issue this year, and he’s expressed opposition to any deal that could give Biden a win. But the GOP also says “no” simply because it can’t figure out how to do anything else.
The GOP prefers foaming rage to solutions, and even in many ways to victories. It’s a party in disarray.
The border bill should be an easy yes for Republicans
The bipartisan deal negotiated in the Senate is basically designed to give the GOP what it wants in exchange for giving the GOP more of what it wants.
Republicans been almost unanimously in favor of more military aid to Israel, even as some progressive Democrats have tried to tie funds to an investigation of Israeli human rights abuses in Gaza. Similarly, leading Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have called for more aid to Ukraine to counter Russia’s invasion.
But while GOP leadership has been in favor of aid to Ukraine and Israel in theory, the GOP has in practice blocked appropriations. It’s insisted that no money should go abroad until the US has addressed border security concerns.
Some GOP members really don’t want to support Ukraine; others just see the negotiations as a way to force Biden — who strongly supports Ukraine — into a box. Either way, the proposed deal does everything McConnell could hope for. Details released Sunday indicate it provides $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, $14 billion in military aid for Israel, $20 billion for border security, and $10 billion for humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Gaza.
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The deal would give the president the authority to close the border when undocumented crossings hit a seven-day average of 4,000. It also makes it more difficult to apply for asylum and reduces the amount of time to resolve asylum cases.
Progressives and organizations like the ACLU worry that these changes will give future presidents — like, say, Trump, if he wins in November — dangerous leeway to shut down asylum processing. They also worry that it will lead to people who need asylum having their claims denied. But their concerns have largely been ignored as Biden and Democratic leadership have focused on getting Republicans onboard.
Trump scuttles the deal
And what has the GOP done as Democrats try desperately to give them a policy victory? Mostly they have opted to set themselves on fire while screaming and running in circles.
The Republicans have been at odds with themselves in this (as in all things) for months. But Trump added napalm to the fire when he came out explicitly against the deal last month, rating on Truth Social that “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people, many from parts unknown, into our once great, but soon to be great again, Country!”
Following Trump’s lead, right-wing grandstanding accelerated. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called the proposed deal a “stinking pile of crap.” Sens. Rick Scott (Florida), Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Eric Schmitt (Missouri), and others joined Cruz in thrashing the bill. The Oklahoma GOP even voted to condemn their own senator, James Lankford, who was a key leader of the talks.
Even more ominously for passage, Mike Johnson, the Republican House speaker, argued that the border bill should freeze asylum processing if there’s a single undocumented crossing — meaning that the president would essentially have unlimited authority to prevent asylum applications. It’s a logistically impossible proposal; Johnson is not making it in good faith. He’s using it as an excuse to kill the deal.
Yesterday on Meet the Press, Johnson left host Kristen Welker gobsmacked when he repeatedly insisted that executive orders from Joe Biden — not bipartisan legislation like the bill hammered out in the Senate — are the solution to problems at the border.
“Any executive action is going to get tied up in the courts,” Welker told him. “You have been calling for legislative change to actually deal with this problem. You are now the speaker of the House. Do you not have a responsibility to your voters, to the people who put you in office, to address what you have called a crisis and a catastrophe?”
Johnson responded by indicating the Senate can either take the draconian immigration bill on offer from House Republicans or get nothing at all. Watch:
Johnson may not be the brightest bulb, but he almost certainly doesn’t really believe that Biden executive actions are the solution to problems at the border. His talking points are nothing more than a flimsy excuse to justify doing Trump’s bidding.
Is it smart politics to blow yourself up?
Trump doesn’t want a deal for extremely self-interested reasons. Legislation getting the border more under control could complicate his plans to demagogue the issue on the campaign trail, and with the economy humming along, fear-mongering about migrants is shaping up to be his signature issue again this cycle. It’s classic “party over country” stuff.
The former president isn’t wrong about immigration being an issue that favors him. A recent Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll found that in swing states, Trump is trusted on the issue over Biden 52 percent to 30 percent. Voters said the economy was the single most important issue to them at 36 percent. But immigration was second, at 13 percent.
Especially with Trump pushing to tank the deal, it makes sense that many vulnerable Republican senators are ducking and running for cover. As political scientist Matt Grossman told USA Today, “The safe vote is almost always no. It's much easier to explain why you're against something — it didn't go as far as you wanted, for example — than to explain away a yes vote for something that becomes unpopular."
But there are also some obvious downsides to the GOP’s high-profile inner conflict on this issue. Vulnerable Democratic Sens. like Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana have been gleefully pointing to Republican hypocrisy and dysfunction. Tester said that politicians who prefer to keep border security as a campaign issue rather than working to fix it “need to resign from the damn Senate.” Colin Allred, the Democrat challenging Cruz for the Senate in Texas, has also attacked his rival for playing politics with immigration rather than trying to reach a solution.
Trump is running against the incumbent, so he wants the current government to look weak and paralyzed and ineffectual. But Republican lawmakers who are incumbents themselves generally would like to show their constituents that they’ve done something. Or, as GOP Texas Rep. Chip Roy expressed it in his usual overheated manner in November, “I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!”
Roy isn’t alone. GOP House members have shown in various ways that they are uneasy about their incompetence and inaction. Many, as a way to compensate, have engaged in a practice of stolen infrastructure valor, in which they claim credit for projects in their district that they voted against.
Florida Rep. Maria Salazar, for example, recently insisted in a trainwreck of an interview that she couldn’t remember how she voted on the CHIPS and Science Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The interviewer, Jim DeFede, refreshed her memory.
“You voted against the CHIPS Act and yet you praise the fact that the south Florida climate resilience tech hub is going to be started in Miami, right?” DeFede told her. “You voted against the infrastructure bill and you talk about all the money that comes back to the airport.”
Brilliant strategy? Or rank incompetence?
Salazar could have just voted to help her district. But she didn’t, because Republicans hate voting yes even when they’re in the majority.
Republican stubbornness is sometimes framed as a fierce, unrelenting desire for power. The GOP is willing to gut the border deal to give Trump an advantage. You could argue that that’s evidence of their focus and brutal ruthlessness.
And maybe it is. But substantively, while progressive legislators do want to help Ukraine, in other respects the border deal looks like a bitter pill to swallow for most Democrats. The GOP was poised for a conservative legislative victory. But they’re preparing to abandon it at the behest of their orange indictee-in-chief.
When Oklahoma sanctions its own senator, when GOP congressional leadership is assiduously kicking each other, when members of Congress go back to their district and sprint away from their own votes — that doesn’t exactly look like grim unity. It looks like a party that can’t find its own feet because it keeps cutting them off at the knees.
That’s it for today
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