By Eugene Robinson
The Republican Party was supposed to be getting its act together for the midterm election. Instead, judging from the disarray on immigration reform, things may be getting even messier.
I’m referring to House Speaker John Boehner’s embarrassing climb-down. After vowing for months that the House would finally take action on immigration, last week he surrendered. The bitterly divided Republican majority cannot agree on how to proceed. Apparently, this is supposed to be President Obama’s fault.
If Boehner spilled gravy on his tie, he’d probably blame Obama. The fact is, Obama has done everything humanly possible to make it easier for Republicans to support sensible reform.
You know a party is dysfunctional when it can’t take yes for an answer. Ostensibly, the GOP’s big objection was to a sweeping, comprehensive bill such as the one passed by the Senate. Last fall, the Obama administration signaled its willingness to take a piecemeal approach, if necessary, in order to move forward. So what’s the problem?
Um, Obama. And the Affordable Care Act. And, I don’t know, maybe Jupiter and Saturn are in astrological misalignment.
“The American people, including many of my members, don’t trust that the reform that we’re talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be,” Boehner said, somehow managing to keep a straight face.
Come on, Mr. Speaker. House Republicans have made clear that they want to deal with border security before turning to the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants. You say they don’t trust Obama to implement tougher border controls? Then why are they content to leave in place the current controls, which presumably are more lenient than the new ones some in the GOP would impose? If the goal is to stem illegal border crossings, wouldn’t it be better to constrain the president with tougher laws rather than weaker ones, at least in theory?
In practice, this is all a bunch of nonsense. The Obama administration has been tougher on border security than any previous administration, carrying out a record number of deportations.
Boehner knows this, so he didn’t focus on the border as the reason for House Republicans’ paralyzing lack of trust in the president. He cited the Affordable Care Act—specifically, elements of the law that have been delayed or altered by executive action.
By that standard, Republicans in Congress should just take the rest of the year off. If they object to the powers vested in the presidency, it’s a waste of their time to even consider legislation on any subject. Instead, they should be working to amend the Constitution to make it more to their liking.
The real reason Boehner can’t get his troops to march in any coherent direction on immigration is that they refuse to acknowledge reality on the central issue: amnesty for the 11 million.
I use the word amnesty because, let’s face it, that’s what we’re talking about. What else would be the point of immigration reform if not to give some legal status to the millions of men, women and children who are here without papers? If you assume that we bring them out of the shadows, and if you assume we do not drive them all out of the country, then you’re talking about some kind of amnesty that allows them to stay.
I would favor a clear path to citizenship. Republicans talk about provisional status that puts them at “the back of the line” for citizenship, which might sound reasonable until you actually look at our immigration policies and realize that there is no organized line. Either way, Congress has to acknowledge that these people are here to stay.
Most House Republicans surely know this. But they have told a different story to the party’s activist base, and they fear that acknowledging reality will invite tea party wrath. They’re paralyzed, all right, but not because they distrust President Obama. It’s because they distrust their own primary voters.
The GOP’s failure to come to terms with immigration reform has two big implications. One is that the party’s estrangement from the nation’s largest minority group is likely to deepen. For many Latino voters—who went for President Obama by 71 percent over Mitt Romney—immigration reform is a threshold issue. The GOP ticket in 2016 may pay a steep price.
The other is that 11 million undocumented immigrants continue to enjoy a de facto amnesty while our society remains less productive and less secure than it should be. All thanks to the Republican Party.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2014, Washington Post Writers Group