A couple of weeks ago, shortly after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced his willingness to run for Speaker, the Wisconsin congressman met with members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose support he hoped to secure. In an Oct. 21 gathering, Ryan reportedly assured his right-wing allies that he would not pursue immigration reform while President Obama is in office – a leading Freedom Caucus concern.
Less than a week later, Ryan specifically pledged to Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) that immigration reform is dead for the remainder of this Congress.
It was of interest, then, to see the newly elected Speaker hit the Sunday shows yesterday, trying to make the case that the death of the policy priority is President Obama’s fault.
In an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ryan said the president has “proven himself to be untrustworthy on this issue.”Ryan said consensus on other issues affecting immigration policy, such as border enforcement, could be possible. But because the president took executive action, comprehensive reform is off the table.
“I don’t think we can trust the president on this issue,” the Republican told Chuck Todd. “The president has proven himself untrustworthy on this issue because he tried to unilaterally rewrite the law himself. Presidents don’t write laws. Congress does.”
It’s important to understand how deeply foolish this is because Americans are going to be hearing this ridiculous talking point quite a bit.
First, the White House took executive action on immigration – just as Reagan and H. W. Bush took executive action on immigration – which isn’t the same as writing new laws. The Speaker of the House really ought to understand the difference.
Second, for members of Congress to suggest the mean ol’ president hurt Congress’ feelings, so lawmakers will allow a problem to go unresolved indefinitely, is a woefully immature approach to policymaking.
Third, when Ryan refers to “consensus” issues, what he’s arguing is that Republicans are willing to work on a package in which Republicans get everything they want, while Democrats get none of what they want. Ryan must realize that policymaking doesn’t work this way.
But even if we put all of that aside, let’s not forget that in February 2014 – nearly two years ago – Democratic congressional leaders endorsed changing immigration reform proposals so that they wouldn’t take effect until 2017. In other words, if Republican contempt for President Obama is so blinding that GOP lawmakers won’t pass laws for the White House to implement, Democrats stand ready to address these concerns by ensuring the measures wouldn’t be implemented until the next president takes office.
As Jonathan Cohn explained a while back, reform proponents are generally comfortable with delayed implementation since “they know federal agencies would need at least a year, and probably more time than that, to write the relevant regulations anyway.”
Congressional Republicans have refused. Even after Democrats agreed to accommodate their irrational hatred for the president, GOP leaders balked.
The reason is simple: most congressional Republicans don’t want to pass immigration reform. Every time they come up with a new demand, Democrats agree to it, prompting GOP officials to come up with new demands.
Why does this matter? Aside from the obvious substantive concern – the current system is broken and needs a comprehensive solution – this is the message Republicans will take to the public in the 2016 elections. Voters concerned about immigration will ask why the GOP killed bipartisan reform measures – before and after the administration’s executive actions – and Republicans will desperately try to blame the president.
For anyone who cares at all about reality, their attempts to pass the buck are impossible to take seriously.