Shortly before the Senate prepared to take an initial vote on the bipartisan border compromise, Senate Republicans met behind closed doors. The GOP architect of the plan, Sen. James Lankford, reportedly addressed his colleagues directly, urging them to put policy over politics.
“This is a problem that needs to be solved,” the Oklahoman said, according to a New York Times report. “Today, we get to decide if we’re going to do that or not — if we’re going to do nothing, or do something.”
About an hour later, senators went to the floor to cast their votes. The legislation Lankford co-wrote received only four Republican votes.
Shortly before GOP senators killed the compromise they requested, Lankford raised a few eyebrows with some candid comments delivered on the Senate floor.
“Some of [the conservative opponents of the bipartisan compromise] have been very clear with me: They have political differences with the bill,” the Oklahoman said. “They say it’s the wrong time to solve the problem, or let the presidential election solve this problem.
“In fact, I had a popular commentator — four weeks ago, that I talked to — that told me flat out, before they knew any of the contents of the bill — any of the contents, nothing was out at that point — that told me flat out, ‘If you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you, because I do not want you to solve this during the presidential election.’”
Highlighting the quote, historian Heather Cox Richardson added, “It is not a normal part of our political system to have members of Congress deciding what laws to support on the basis of threats.”
Part of what makes Lankford’s frustrations so notable is the degree to which he’s pulling back the curtain, removing all doubt about his Republican colleagues who prioritize politics over problem-solving — even if that means deceiving the public.
But I’m also struck by the degree to which the GOP senator is assigning blame to his own party for the failure of the bill he helped craft. When Republicans killed the Gang of Eight’s proposed reforms nearly a decade ago, some in the party — Sen. Marco Rubio, I’m looking in your direction — tried to shift the blame to the Obama White House, suggesting the legislation would’ve passed if only GOP lawmakers could trust the tyrannical and lawless Democratic president in office at the time.
The rhetoric was transparently foolish and cynical, but Republicans thought by peddling the absurd talking point, they could avoid blame for once again burying immigration reform.
But roughly 10 years later, Lankford is making such a rhetorical push impossible by telling the truth — and holding his own ostensible allies accountable for their actions.