GOP finds new excuse to oppose immigration reform

Updated
 
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)

One of the challenges for Republicans engaged in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform is that they’ve run out of rationales for saying, “No.” The Senate bill gave the right just about everything it asked for, including the so-called “border surge,” resulting in a popular, bipartisan bill that doubles the border patrol, shrinks the deficit, boosts the economy, improves the finances of the Social Security and Medicare systems, and help private-sector employers.

What’s not to like?

The right has been left to scramble, looking for something to complain about. Yesterday, they came up with a new one.

The talking point appears to have started in earnest with this Washington Examiner piece from Conn Carroll, who argued that the Obama administration delayed implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act – a move the right should, in theory, love – which proves the White House shows discretion when it comes to enforcing parts of major laws, which proves Obama might not enforce the border-security elements of immigration reform, which proves Republicans can’t trust him, which proves Congress should kill the bipartisan bill.

As is usually the case, the argument quickly moved from online conservative commentary to the lips of Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said Monday night that Republicans who oppose the Senate’s immigration bill don’t trust President Obama to enforce the border enforcement provisions in that bill.

“One of the biggest fears we have about the Senate amnesty bill … is we can’t trust the president,” Fleming said on the House floor. “We can’t trust him.”

Indeed, it appears Fleming went on quite a rant yesterday, arguing, “Whatever we pass into law, we know he’s going to cherry-pick. How do we know that? … ObamaCare; he’s picking and choosing the parts of the law that he wants to implement. This president is doing something I have never seen a president do before: in a tripartite government with its checks and balances, we have lost the balances. We have a president that picks and chooses the laws the he wants to obey and enforce. That makes him a ruler. He’s not a president, he’s a ruler.”

There is, in case you were curious, no evidence of Fleming complaining when George W. Bush issued signing statements explaining which parts of laws he intended to ignore.

Regardless, that’s the new pitch: Republicans have to kill immigration reform because of the delay in the employer mandate in health care reform. Does this make sense? I’m afraid not.

It’s really not that complicated. When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the administration has some discretion when it comes implementing various provisions. It’s not unusual – the employer mandate isn’t even the first “Obamacare” element to be delayed – and it’s not unique to health care. Plenty of parts of the Dodd/Frank financial-regulatory reform law were delayed, too. This has long been the norm, and using it as an excuse not to trust the entire executive branch is silly.

Brian Beutler added yesterday:

The administration isn’t unlawfully writing the employer mandate out of existence, just like it wouldn’t unlawfully refuse to send thousands of agents to the border if an immigration reform law required them to.

And because immigration reform will be a bipartisan law if it passes, Republicans in Congress will have less incentive to stand in the way if the implementation process reveals real problems with its drafting. Which means the administration won’t be left, as it is with the ACA, facing a suboptimal choice between implementing the law poorly or taking clunky administrative steps to smooth the process out.

It’s a thin pretense, even by GOP standards. Let’s say Obama were to announce today, “OK, fine, we’ll bring back the problematic employer mandate in health care law if it helps restore trust and encourages the House to pass immigration reform.” Would that work? Of course not. Far-right opponents of immigration would simply come up with some new excuse – this isn’t about policy or substance; it’s about partisanship and ideology.

So why bother with this nonsense at all? Because Republicans aren’t just looking for an excuse; they’re also looking for a way to avoid blame. Immigration reform is, after all, popular, and the House GOP doesn’t want to suffer any electoral consequences for once again blowing off the wishes of the American mainstream to follow the wishes of the far-right.

And so, this new shtick is intended to pass the buck. Republicans are, in effect, hoping to say it’s the White House’s fault that they killed immigration reform, so point fingers somewhere else.

Voters are sometimes fooled by garbage talking points, but it’s hard to imagine anyone finding this nonsense persuasive.

John Fleming

GOP finds new excuse to oppose immigration reform

Updated