House Republicans Have No Idea What Direction To Take On Immigration
House Republicans are supposed to vote on one or more immigration bills this week, but can't even agree what their policy should be.
The House of Representatives is supposed to be voting later this week, perhaps as early as tomorrow, on a bill that would address the several immigration issues that have bedeviled the Legislative Branch lately. This includes both the current controversy over the Trump Administration’s family separation policy and the fate of the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Trump had originally announced was ending last September. Toward that end, late yesterday afternoon President Trump took a trip up to Capitol Hill to speak with House Republicans about the issue, but by the time he left it was unclear where the issue stands and whether there were even enough votes to pass any proposal currently pending before the House:
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans moved on Tuesday to defuse an escalating political crisis over immigration, but failed to agree on how to end President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from parents who cross illegally into the United States.
The Senate had one plan, and the House another. Mr. Trump remained defiant, refusing to act on his own.
In a fiery address to a group of small-business executives, Mr. Trump falsely blamed Democrats for the separation crisis and demanded a broad overhaul of the United States’ immigration laws, a process that would take months. At the same time, he belittled one of the central ideas behind the effort by Senate Republicans to immediately stop separating families on the Mexican border.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said that “all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together,” endorsing quick passage of a narrow bill to provide legal authority to detain parents and children together while the courts consider their status.
In the House, Republicans vowed to press ahead with votes this week on a pair of more sweeping immigration bills — one drafted by conservatives and the other a compromise measure between conservatives and moderates — that address the family separation issue to different degrees, while also strengthening border security and making other changes to the country’s immigration system.
In an hourlong meeting on Capitol Hill with House Republicans, Mr. Trump declined to explicitly back either one, saying he would sign both bills. Republican leaders are trying to rally support for the compromise bill.
“The president was very firm in explaining why it’s so important that he gets this bill to his desk so that we can solve some problems and secure our border,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the Republican whip. He added, “We want to secure our border; we want to reunite kids. Our bill does just that.”
Mr. McConnell said he planned to reach out to Democrats to support his conference’s effort, hoping to stanch the political damage from the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that has led to heartbreaking stories of children separated from their mothers.
But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, immediately shot down the Republican approach, saying that Mr. Trump could — and should — use his executive authority, not legislation, to quickly end the family separations.
“Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
Mr. Trump has the power on his own to change that zero-tolerance policy at the border, which would once again allow border agents and prosecutors the discretion to allow families to remain together after crossing illegally into the United States. But it would also allow those families to be released while their court proceedings go forward, something Mr. Trump opposes.
On paper at least, Schumer’s rejection of the Republican proposal to end family separation seems like little more than political opportunism. Under the approach that the bill that was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz, the current family separation policy would be ended and the Administration would be required to, at the very least, keep families that come across the border together at an appropriate facility. It would also call for the addition of roughly 375 new immigration judges to hear the claims for asylum or other defenses against deportation that these people may raise. Admittedly, this is a hiring and training process that would take months at the very least, but it would address the problem at the center of the family separation crisis relatively quickly while at the same time allowing for a more expedited resolution of these cases that have, to date, overwhelmed the system to the extent that we have reached the point that we’re at right now. President Trump, though, has seemingly rejected that proposal and is insisting that any resolution to the family separation policy and the DACA issue that doesn’t include his other demands such as funding for his border wall and restrictions on legal immigration that have the potential of cutting it in half.
Whatever the fate of the family separation policy, though, Trump is leaving the GOP directionless when it comes to a broader immigration reform proposal:
President Trump couldn’t have handed Republicans in Congress a more politically perilous or miserable situation to deal with if he tried.
Less than five months before an election in which Republicans in Congress will be at risk of losing one or both chambers, they must try to come up with an emergency fix to a politically unpopular potential humanitarian crisis on the border that was manufactured by their party’s leader.
And Trump isn’t helping much as they look for a solution. In fact, he’s arguably making things worse. Two House bills are under consideration, both of which would ease the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border and reinstate protections for young undocumented immigrants — protections Trump ended. Trump has been indecisive about which measure he’d support.
House Republicans hosted him on Tuesday evening, hoping for some clarity after he initially appeared to torpedo the compromise bill on Friday that actually has a chance of getting a majority of Republicans on board. That measure would cut legal immigration and in exchange offer a path to citizenship for the young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.” (No Democrats have signaled support for it.)
Trump gave no such clarity on the two dueling bills.
“He didn’t really tell us what bill to vote for,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) told Washington Post reporters outside that meeting.
Instead, Trump gave some lawmakers in the room a reason to boo him, by dissing Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who lost his primary last week in part because of a feud with Trump.
Even the subject at hand, immigration, is the last thing Republican leaders in Congress want to be dealing with right now. They tried to quash a petition by moderate Republicans to hold a vote on protecting dreamers, fearful that it would pass with the help of Democrats — not a good look for a Republican-controlled Congress hoping to ramp up its base’s enthusiasm.
Despite all of this, Republicans are moving forward with yet another effort on immigration even though it seems clear they will fail:
They can’t agree amongst themselves. Since Democrats aren’t going to support either of these bills, Republicans have a small margin for error, and they’re confronting a problem they’ve always had: Their few remaining moderates are skittish about the harsher approach, while their conservatives don’t want anything that they think is “amnesty” for anyone, including dreamers. Everyone acknowledges that the Goodlatte bill doesn’t have the votes to pass, and it looks as though the compromise bill — which, we should note, is still very harsh — will also lose enough hard-liners to fall short.
As far as they’re concerned, doing nothing is a viable option. As much as Republicans say they hate the current immigration system, they’ve shown time and again that they’re perfectly happy to shake their fists at it but leave it in place. If the alternative is voting for a bill that a far-right primary challenger will say is amnesty, many of them would rather do nothing. They’ve seen how people such as Sen. Marco Rubio got punished for trying to achieve comprehensive immigration reform that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and they don’t want to put themselves at risk.
The president won’t help them. Just in the past week, Trump has gone from saying that he won’t support the compromise bill to saying that he supports both bills; as one Republican saidafter yesterday’s meeting, “He made comments like ‘I’m behind it 1,000 percent,’ but what is ‘it’?” Members of Congress have learned that Trump simply can’t be trusted to keep to a single position from one day to the next. So if you were one of them, would you stick your neck out on the theory that the president had your back?
The Senate won’t pass either of these bills anyway. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he doesn’t have any intention of bringing up a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, and it’s almost impossible to see how even the compromise bill — which, to repeat, is still extremely harsh — could get the votes of nine Democrats, which is what it would need to reach 60 votes and overcome a filibuster.
The only incentive is to deal with the family separation crisis and leave it at that. Every day brings more horrifying stories and images of the children who are being separated from their families at the border as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Trump claims that he hates doing it (which no one believes) and that it’s the fault of imaginary laws passed by Democrats (which is just false). So there’s a solution: pass a narrow bill dealing just with this issue.
That analysis comes from The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman, and it seems to me to be largely correct. Even if Republicans are able to come forward with a bill that can pass the House, the odds that it will pass the Senate are minimal at best and the odds that the President would sign anything that didn’t fully meet his criteria is, well, unknown until the moment that the President himself makes up his mind. As a result, I don’t expect much out of the votes upcoming in the House this week, or even for the rest of the year. Instead, these separated families, like the DACA beneficiaries, will just continue being treated as political footballs.0