For two years, House Republicans have been under pressure to tackle legislation related to immigration. Late Friday night, the wait ended – the GOP majority finally held votes on the issue.
They just weren’t the vote the American mainstream had in mind.
Early in July, many congressional Republicans actually intended to approve President Obama’s plan to address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. But the GOP’s posture kept shifting – from amending to Obama’s plan, to destroying it, to passing a far-right proposal that wasn’t considered extreme enough, to Friday night’s sad theatrics.
The result was effectively GOP wish-fulfillment. There was no consideration of what might be politically realistic, what could plausibly become law, or even what might address the problem in some meaningful way. Boehner and the hapless House Republican leadership effectively gave up, telling their most right-wing members to have a blast: draw up the bill of their dreams, and whatever the far-right wanted is what the chamber would do.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), arguably Congress’ most vituperative opponent of immigration, boasted on Friday, “The changes brought into this are ones I’ve developed and advocated for over the past two years. It’s like I ordered it off the menu.”
Which makes it all the more important to appreciate exactly what House Republicans voted for – this is the approach to the border crisis that the party embraced as its own.
Starting with what was added today, the bill allows states to be reimbursed for their national guards’ work on the deportation beat, changes the 2008 human trafficking law to put Central American migrants back in the normal deportation pipeline, and adds “a new restriction that prevents the Secretary of Defense from allowing the placement of unauthorized aliens at military installations if doing so would displace members of the Armed Force.”
Not only would future Dream Act kids be slated for deportation, so too would be those already benefiting from President Obama’s DACA policy. Republicans would also cut off all foreign aid for struggling Central American countries that failed, to the GOP’s satisfaction, to curtail the migrant crisis.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) explained on Friday that the Republican Party’s new policy can effectively be described in three words: “Deport ‘em all.”
The closer one looks, the less the description sounds like an exaggeration.
Chris Hayes, for example, talked to Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) on the air on Friday night, and the conservative lawmaker stressed how important it is to him to deport all Dream Act kids – and then keep going. “There are 8 million jobs in America now held by illegal aliens, that’s 8 million job opportunities taken from American citizens,” Brooks said.
Asked if he would like to see all 8 million immigrants thrown out of the country, Brooks replied, “Yeah, if that’s what’s necessary to protect American jobs. Absolutely.”
The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, one of the most GOP-friendly spaces in all of American print media, told readers, “The bill should have been a moment to redirect attention to President Obama’s cynical handling of the border problem and to the Democratic Party’s immigration divisions. Instead the GOP again gave the country the impression that its highest policy priority is to deport as many children as rapidly as possible back from wherever they came.”
Except, it’s not an “impression.” That’s simply what the party now believes. GOP leaders handed Steve King and Michele Bachmann the responsibility for writing the pair of bills, the party then embraced and passed them, before heading to their home districts with a “Mission Accomplished” message.
Keep in mind, earlier in the week, Republican leaders explicitly rejected these right-wing provisions, deeming them needlessly provocative and “poison pill” measures that doomed the legislative prospects for the bill itself. I mention this, not to mock the very public flip-flop, but to highlight the larger context: the House GOP leadership is so shockingly weak, it not only fails to pass the bills the leadership likes, it’s also forced to support bills the leadership clearly recognizes as ridiculous.
What we’re left with is a major political party that’s defined itself as aggressively anti-immigrant, just three months before the midterm elections.
Will voters care? There’s a school of thought that says public ignorance is so pervasive that congressional failures are irrelevant – voters don’t really understand the policymaking process; they have no idea who’s in charge of what in Congress; and so the president invariably gets blamed for everything, including the GOP’s crushing incompetence and extremism. By this reasoning, Republicans might even be rewarded for failing so miserably because so much of the public will hold Obama responsible for reasons that don’t make any factual sense.
There’s very likely something to this, but let’s not discount the possibility that Republicans will face some electoral consequences – if not in 2014, soon after – for positioning itself as the “deport ‘em all” party. Indeed, GOP leaders recognized this danger after the 2012 elections, endorsing an “autopsy” commissioned by the Republican National Committee that said the party had to take a more constructive approach to immigration or pay the penalty of a massive demographic shift.
That “autopsy” report is now little more than a distant memory within GOP circles. Indeed, as of Friday night, the party made a conscious, deliberate decision to do the exact opposite of what Republican strategists and pollsters advised.
Confronted with the possibility of becoming the most aggressively anti-immigrant party Americans have seen in a generation, congressional Republicans embraced the label with shocking enthusiasm.