POLITICS
06/22/2018 02:53 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2018

Trump Leaves GOP Leaders Out To Dry On Immigration

Trump could have made immigration easier on Republicans. Instead, he's making it harder.
President Donald J. Trump
The Washington Post via Getty Images
President Donald J. Trump

WASHINGTON ― Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other Republican leaders thought President Donald Trump could be the magic bullet for accomplishing the elusive GOP goal of passing an immigration bill. Instead, he’s looking more like the death blow.

After telling House Republicans Tuesday night that he backed both of their immigration proposals “1,000 percent,” Trump has gone soft. He first asked on Thursday what the purpose was of the House passing immigration bills if the Senate was just going to reject a GOP-only bill ― a fair point. Trump then stepped up the Twitter criticism Friday morning to say, “Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration” until after the November elections, where he improbably predicted a “Red Wave.”

Setting aside the delusions of increased GOP margins in the House, Trump’s statement that Republicans should set aside immigration is not the endorsement GOP lawmakers had been looking for ― and it’s already spooking Republicans who were on the fence about backing a compromise bill.

“Well that weighs a lot in my decision-making, what the president says,” Freshman Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) told HuffPost Friday. “So one of the things we expressed to leadership was the president needed to come out and strongly endorse this compromise plan. It doesn’t appear that he has.”

Comer, who comes from a district that supported Trump over Clinton by nearly 50 points, said he was following Trump on immigration, and he had no reservations about giving the president such wide latitude on policy-making.

Other Republicans also told HuffPost they agreed that continuing to work on immigration was an exercise in futility.

“Given the makeup of the Senate, yeah, it is a waste of time,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) said. “And it’s forcing a lot of our folks to walk the plank for no good reason.”

Hice said even before Trump came to this conclusion, he was saying that it was pointless to try and work on immigration when Senate Democrats wouldn’t agree to a GOP immigration bill. He didn’t seem receptive to the idea of crafting a bipartisan immigration proposal.

“Why they even brought it up in the first place is a bit beyond me,” Hice said.

House Republicans seem to understand that no immigration bill that could pass the Senate could pass the House. That is unless the House passes a bill with nearly all Democrats and a couple of dozen Republicans. But, the two dozen Republicans who signed a discharge petition to force a vote on immigration are outnumbered by rank-and-file Republicans who don’t want to actually work with Democrats, at least not in a way that would require actual policy concessions.

When HuffPost raised the point with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) that Republicans could solve immigration issues if they were willing to work with Democrats, he flipped the statement around and said, “Obviously Democrats could solve this issue if they were willing to work with Republicans.”

But Perry and other Republicans aren’t really open to the ideas that Democrats have for addressing the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, and even when Democrats have shown willingness to give Republicans concessions like funding a border wall, Republicans (in the House, at least) have shown no willingness to bring Democrats to the table.

With that in mind, Trump’s diagnosis that solving the issue is impossible seems accurate, at least if you accept that Democrats shouldn’t have a say in the solution.

Speaker Ryan has consistently demonstrated he doesn’t think Democrats should have a seat at the table. And even in the House GOP’s failure to pass a Republican-only immigration bill, Ryan has been successful in his main endeavor: preventing a discharge petition from bringing up a bipartisan immigration bill that could pass the House.

“Our goal was to prevent a discharge petition from reaching the floor, because a discharge petition would have brought legislation to the floor that the president would have surely vetoed,” Ryan said Thursday. “It would have been an exercise in futility.”

Never mind that producing two GOP-only bills is an exercise in futility, and never mind that the only immigration bill that has a majority in the House is probably one that nearly all Democrats would support. Ryan doesn’t want to demonstrate that he’s blocking the will of the chamber.

But now Ryan is in a different pickle. Part of the gambit to block the discharge petition was to schedule two votes on immigration: one for a hardline bill named after Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and one for a compromise measure that moderates would support.

After Thursday, however, when the hardline bill failed but drew a surprising amount of support ― more support than the compromise bill would garner. Leadership decided to forego the embarrassment of putting up the second bill, at least for now.

It’s now considering changes that would bring the bill further to the right, but without Trump’s support, the bill would still likely fall short of the 193 votes that the so-called Goodlatte bill drew. That would show Republicans that the way to pass a GOP-only immigration bill is simply by tailoring it to the far right and hoping that, with the president’s support, you can pressure enough moderates to support the bill.

The problem there is that, while Republicans were closer than they thought to passing the Goodlatte bill, they were still 20 votes away. And even if you passed it through the House, you’d just be further from passing it in the Senate, where you need 60 votes and the support of at least nine Democrats.

Ryan would end up teaching Republicans the wrong lessons on immigration ― that the path toward passage is to the right ― when the truth is probably the opposite.

But with Trump seemingly hardening every day on immigration, and his willingness to support a DACA solution waning, Trump is just like many in the GOP conference when he advises Republicans to just give up.

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