Littwin: GOP immigration showdown plan hitting full fizzle
As the shutdown showdown in Washington winds down, there’s no surprise in how it’s going to end.
The House may extend the argument for another three weeks, in order, I guess, to save some face, but the ending would look the same today as it will in mid-March.
I mean, this was always pointing toward a disaster for Republicans, who picked this fight and now are desperately trying to find a way to semi-gracefully throw in the towel before they lose any more important teeth. Here was the plan, in short: Instead of threatening to shut down the entire government in order to defund Barack Obama’s immigration orders, they would threaten to shut down Homeland Security in order to defund Obama’s immigration orders.
I don’t know if anyone ever took the threat seriously, but as ISIS produced one outrage after another, clearly hoping to provoke a land war with the West, it became obvious that the real threat wasn’t coming from the House of Representatives.
For this plan to work (it couldn’t work), Obama would have to back down (he wouldn’t back down) and Republicans would have to risk the danger of an ISIS-related assault (a risk they wouldn’t take). And so the Senate caved, and now it’s just a matter of time before Congress sends Obama a so-called “clean” bill, and we’re onto something else, like maybe another Senate snowball fight.
But we learned something — and it may be an important something — about immigration. For the most part, Republicans didn’t try that hard. As Dave Weigel points out in Bloomberg View, their hearts just weren’t in it.
In fact, Weigel quoted Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, saying just that. “Their heart,” Krikorian said of GOP leadership, “isn’t in the fight; they see it as simply a matter of base management. They don’t mind having these people amnestied and like the idea of being able to blame it on Obama.”
If you watched the Republican presidential contenders parading before conservative voters at CPAC convention Thursday, you got a taste of it. Everyone slammed Obama for being a “dictator” and for “amnesty.” (Here’s a thought: If Obama were, in fact, a dictator, could they actually get away with slamming him?) But nobody talked much about going over any cliffs. The CPAC attendees were definitely angrier than any of the candidates. And it’s no coincidence that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner skipped the affair altogether. They wouldn’t have gotten out two words between them.
OK, you have heard outrage from from the usual suspects — although the talk in Washington has been about how little Ted Cruz has had to say on the topic — but to little effect. While the polls show most people think Obama overreached with his executive orders, the same polls show Obama’s approval ratings climbing.
And how real is your threat when McConnell had promised no shutdown and Boehner spends weeks trying to find a graceful out?
The truth is, there couldn’t be a worse time to consider any kind of partial shutdown of Homeland Security. ISIS leaders want a land war because they’re pretty sure that, win or lose, they would still win. And so the provocations get increasingly difficult to ignore. The New York Times led Friday with the latest — a video of ISIS militants destroying ancient Assyrian works of art, some that date back to 800 B.C. The Times reported that the group emptied 30 Assyrian villages, took maybe 300 captives and demanded that Christians pay a tax, in gold.
But there’s something else, too. We must know by now how the immigration wars are going to end. There will be immigration reform, although certainly not until Obama leaves office, but probably not that long thereafter. The outcome has always been obvious — we were never going to deport 11 million illegal immigrants — but it all came into focus after Mitt Romney’s self-deport plan went nowhere. And at the same time, Obama promised he would do something. He’s done something, and there was always going to be a fight over it.
When the Texas federal judge put a temporary stop to the Obama plan, that was the obvious chance for Republicans to back away. Even Karl Rove wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal advising them to just declare victory and leave it to the courts. Instead, House Republicans stuck with a self-destructive threat that Obama was free to ignore.
That isn’t to say that the fight is over. As the 2016 race heats up, there will be plenty of talk about Obama and immigration. When we get to the debates, immigration reform will once again take center stage. Republicans who aren’t Jeb Bush will undoubtedly try to pin Obama’s orders on Bush.
And Hillary Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic candidate, will be thrilled any time they bring that particular fight to her.
Mike Littwin writes a weekly column for the Colorado Independent.
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