One of the significant political arguments made against the House’s taking up a big series of immigration bills this year has been that the debate over these bills would divide the Republican party and the Right heading into the 2014 elections. A victory for the president’s immigration agenda would dispirit many in the conservative base while also damaging Republican efforts with the working class. But, even if conservatives are able to stop a big-government anti-integration and anti-opportunity immigration bill, the months of in-fighting will have taken their toll on party unity and grassroots energy.
The past 24 hours give a taste of how sharp that in-fighting could be. A BuzzFeed story today quoted Republicans attacking fellow Republicans as racist. For example, an unnamed Southern Republican member of Congress implied that the racial anxiety of the conservative base was behind some of his or her colleagues’ opposition to the president’s immigration agenda: “Part of it, I think — and I hate to say this, because these are my people — but I hate to say it, but it’s racial.” Apparently, some Republicans are practicing in hopes of becoming MSNBC primetime hosts.
If the House chooses to continue to wade into the immigration debate, this kind of racially inflammatory rhetoric will continue and likely escalate. And if Republicans are going to attack fellow GOPers as racists, one can only imagine the demagogic vitriol pouring out of the left on this issue.
Furthermore, as some Beltway Republicans pledge to help the president realize a key second-term goal, the grassroots backlash is building. Over the past 24r hours, two key Senate Republicans have criticized House Republican leadership. Jeff Sessions slammed House Republican leaders for being sympathetic to an immigration package that could harm the middle class and working Americans. Ted Cruz released a statement noting that the House’s movement on immigration could imperil the GOP’s chances of victory in November. One might approve of Senator Sessions’s concern for the working American and find persuasive Senator Cruz’s warnings about political tactics. But it would be far better if they did not have to make these points at all: if some in the House GOP were not so willing to allow the president to impose his flawed vision of immigration reform upon the nation.
There are sound policy and political reasons for the House not taking up an immigration bill at the present moment. It’s better to pass a good immigration bill a year or two from now rather than a bad one today. Some Beltway Republicans have taken to arguing that something “big” needs to be done on immigration as a way of pushing for immediate action. In 2009 and 2010, many Democrats appealed to the need to pass something “big” on health-care as a way of pushing through Obamacare. And we all know how well that’s worked out.
Rather than trying to advance the president’s agenda and dividing the party in doing so, House Republicans should focus on crafting a forward-looking set of policy principles that defend the dignity, prosperity, and opportunity of all Americans.