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House GOP intensifies immigration standoff

The Republicans' pro-deportation, anti-immigration gambit is doomed to fail. The question then becomes why they're doing this.
Demonstrators protest during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington in this October 13, 2009 file photo.
Demonstrators protest during an immigration reform rally in front of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
In theory, the task before Congress is quite simple: fund the Department of Homeland Security. Everyone involved in the process -- Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers and the White House -- already agree on how much money is going to be allocated. Easy peasy, right?
Wrong. Thanks to a gambit House Republicans threw together in December, Republican lawmakers are using the DHS funding bill as the basis for an ugly showdown: either President Obama accepts GOP demands to effectively dismantle his entire approach to immigration policy or Congress will gut Homeland Security funding when it expires at the end of February.
Despite broad concerns that this plan is doomed to fail, the House majority just kept pushing yesterday.

In a final 236-191 vote, lawmakers agreed to keep the department running through September in legislation that includes a set of amendments designed to unravel and block funding to the president's executive measures. Far-right elements of the party tacked the toxic amendments to dismantle not just the latest immigration actions brought by President Obama, but also a similar initiative from 2012. In sum, the amendments work to prevent millions of undocumented immigrants the right to apply for work permits and seek temporary relief from deportation.

Republicans at least claimed to be outraged by the White House's executive actions in December, but when crafting their approach to Homeland Security funding, GOP leaders effectively said, "Well, as long we're here, let's go ahead and push for mass deportations." Yesterday's package even sought to roll back Obama's 2012 actions protecting Dream Act kids.
This almost certainly isn't the path House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wanted to follow, but as is often the case, his ostensible followers didn't give him much of a choice. The Republican leader was left to make obviously foolish arguments such as, "We are dealing with a president who has ignored the people, ignored the Constitution, and even his own past statements," and, "The president's overreach is an affront to the rule of law and the Constitution itself."
Nonsensical rhetoric notwithstanding, the real question is what happens now.
Whether they like it or not, the far-right plan isn't going to work. For one thing, the House package will need 60 votes in the Senate to advance, and those votes aren't there. For another, even if the votes were to somehow materialize, President Obama has vowed to veto the scheme and there's nothing to suggest he's bluffing.
That would leave House Republicans with a choice: either fold and pass a clean bill before the deadline or force a partial DHS shutdown next month. The latter wouldn't derail Obama's policy, but it would undermine domestic border security, which the right claims to care deeply about.
Just about every serious observer realizes that Republicans will have to give in fairly soon -- even Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a far-right member who supported the package, conceded the bill "doesn't have a great probability of success" -- making all of yesterday's drama rather pointless and self-defeating.
Indeed, no one in the GOP has explained what the party actually hopes to get out of these efforts. The fight itself is dividing the party -- several Republicans from diverse districts balked at some of their own party's plans yesterday -- and there's hardly an electoral upside to declaring that Republicans are a pro-deportation, anti-immigration party. Worse, the more Boehner uses over-the-top language while condemning the president, the worse it will look for the Speaker when he has to give up.
GOP lawmakers are fully aware of the fact that they pushed a controversial package yesterday with no chance of success, but they did it anyway -- because they could, because it gave the radicalized base short-term satisfaction, and because it scratched an ideological itch, even if it does nothing to move the party closer to its goals.
These are not the actions of a party that takes public policy seriously.
Postscript #1: Greg Sargent had a terrific piece on the developments, and noted an angle that probably hasn't gotten enough attention: "Does today's House GOP stance have the support of Jeb Bush (who has explicitly called for recognizing the moral complexity of illegal immigrants' plight); Mitt Romney (who presumably learned the pitfalls of a hard line on immigration); and Marco Rubio (who championed the Senate bill)? Spokespeople for all three have not answered emails asking that question." Yep, keep an eye on this one,
Postscript #2: When the House Republican gambit falls apart, which it will, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said yesterday that the party would then move on to a federal lawsuit challenging Obama's policy. The case would be a long shot at best, and would almost certainly not be resolved until after the president's second term is over.