WASHINGTON -- As the political world grapples with how to respond to the current crisis on the nation's border, several Republicans have begun warning fellow party members that doing nothing but opposing the president carries substantial political risks.
At issue is President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion to increase deportations, add border agents and expand care for the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have traveled to the country from Central America. The administration has pitched this as the first step to address the massive spike of unaccompanied minors streaming to the border. Congressional Republicans, in part, have responded by denouncing it as a "blank check," adding that they won't approve funding unless Obama ramps up deportations and approves changes to laws meant to protect minors.
It's a fault line similar to the one that developed over comprehensive immigration reform, in which Republicans recognized the need for reform but have found it easier just to oppose the president's fix. This time, however, GOP officials have been more vocal about their concerns about the immediate downsides of inaction.
"If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday.
A public supporter of comprehensive reform, Graham's voice doesn't often carry much weight with the rest of the party when talk turns to immigration policy. But over the past day, his concerns have begun to be echoed by others in the GOP.
"No one is going to agree on one solution. You rarely have agreement on major issues so you try and work through the differences and come up with an alternative to find a solution to the problem," said former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas). "Lindsey has always been one who adheres to some of the principles I'm describing. He has been reasonable and is always trying to put forth a solution that is not ethnically charged. … I think it would be wise for his colleagues to listen to him."
Frank Luntz, the longtime Republican wordsmith and strategist, said that while his party "can rightly crow about the warnings they gave to President Obama that securing the border should be Washington's first responsibility," in the end "being right is not enough."
"Criticizing is not enough," said Luntz. "They need to be for something, not just against the President."
Liz Mair, a Republican strategist, laid out three potential problems Republicans face if they simply refuse to work with the administration on the emergency supplemental. The first, she said, is that Republicans could be tarred with rejecting a proposal that includes more funds for border security and avoiding a chance to have a legislative counter-balance to a president they've deemed imperial. The second potential problem is that if they avoid action on the supplemental, Republicans risk "looking unsympathetic to a bunch of toddlers still eating from bottles and wearing diapers." Finally, Mair noted, if the GOP lets the party's immigration hawks dominate the response to the current crisis, there could be repercussions from the growing segment of Hispanic voters.
It could be "deeply offensive to Latino voters … and end up motivating them to go out and vote for the Democrat, when in the absence of this, their motivation to vote at all might have been lower or, in some cases, where they might otherwise have considered voting for the Republican," Mair said.
Meanwhile, Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the American Conservative Union, said Republicans should demand spending cuts to offset funding for the border. He went further than many others in his advice, offering that the real answer would be to pass immigration reform.
"They ought to pass something that improves the crisis that we're currently under," he said. "It's a crisis in need of a solution, and that's what you go to Congress for."
Much of the news coverage around the crisis has centered around the president's response, including quizzical questions as to why he chose not to visit the border while in Texas for a fundraiser. Some have criticized Obama's immigration policies, saying they encouraged people in other countries to think they could come to the U.S. illegally and stay. Talk of comprehensive immigration reform as a solution has been dismissed as unrealistic in a climate in which Republicans distrust the administration to enforce the laws on the books.
But hints of a boomerang effect began to emerge Thursday morning with a USA Today editorial. "Let's call the Republican response what it is: a tactical decision to let a problem fester for political reasons," the editorial read.
Perhaps cognizant of a changing tide, some of the party's grey beards have subtly begun pushing GOP leadership to avoid being obstinate.
Karl Rove, an adviser to former President George W. Bush, wrote in a Wall Street Journal column published Thursday that Obama's decision to suspend deportations of young undocumented immigrants caused the current unaccompanied minors crisis. But he also said Republicans needed to work with the president to deal with the problem now that it exists.
"Republicans shouldn't feel compelled to give him $3.7 billion if they don't think it's needed, but they ought to sit down in good faith and work at using this as as an opportunity to take some steps" to increase border security measures, he said Thursday on Fox News.
In the Senate it appears that GOP leadership is adopting a more open-minded approach so far. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and his colleagues would take a "hard look" at Obama's funding proposal. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced they would propose a bill that would allow for the speeding of deportations but also include funding to help patch up some of the other problems associated with unaccompanied minors.
In the House, however, the reaction to the supplemental has been more resistant than receptive.
"I’d be happy to give the President $3.7 billion to secure the border if I thought he’d actually do it," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement. "Congress shouldn’t give President Obama a single penny until we see him use the current resources to secure the border, increase interior enforcement, and reduce illegal immigration," he added later.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about Graham's warnings on Thursday morning. He said the House should do something about the border crisis, but became agitated when asked whether he believed the Republican Party ran a political risk by not helping solve the problem.
"This is a problem of the president's own making," Boehner said. "He's been president for five and a half years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?"
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