Trump Widens, But Didn’t Create, Republicans’ Immigration Chasm

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House Republicans say they’re charging forward with a vote this week on a sweeping immigration bill that would fund President Trump’s border wall, slash legal immigration, make it more difficult for migrants to seek asylum, give DACA recipients a path to citizenship, and end the separation of migrant parents and children by detaining them together indefinitely.

But the deep, long-standing divisions within the Republican caucus on immigration, exacerbated by a mercurial president repeatedly undermining GOP leaders’ efforts to pass a bill, mean the chances of legislation making it to Trump’s desk are slim to none.

Adding to the immigration angst is the impending midterm election, in which the GOP faces an uphill battle to maintain control of the House. Torn between hardline conservative primary voters opposed to any path to citizenship for Dreamers or leniency for families crossing the border and more moderate suburban voters they need to hold key swing seats in the general election, lawmakers look increasingly unlikely to rally behind Speaker Paul Ryan’s so-called “compromise” bill.

Miles apart

The wheels began coming off Republicans’ latest push to pass an immigration bill early last week, with the far-right wing of the House slamming Ryan’s fairly conservative proposal for granting DACA recipients a path to citizenship and for cutting just some, not all, forms of family-based immigration.

“It’s amnesty. It doesn’t protect the American worker. Chain migration is still in it,” grumbled Rep. Lou Bartletta (R-PA), who is currently running for the Senate, just after the delay was announced. “I’m a big fat ‘no’ in capital letters and I’m going to encourage other people to vote no.”

“A lot of my constituents do not like this bill,” added Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “They’re worried about amnesty being granted.”

Moderate Republicans, already facing the public’s ire for backing down on a push to force a vote on a bipartisan immigration bill, have begun abandoning ship as well.

In the face of this backlash, Ryan delayed the original Thursday floor vote until Friday, and then pushed it into this week, raising doubts the vote would happen at all. As the effort crumbled, the finger-pointing began.

“The Freedom Caucus, it seems to me, got 80 to 90 percent of what they what,” groused Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to TPM. “That should be enough. This is probably one of the most consensus-type bills possible on such a controversial issue within our party. So it’s hard to see what their agenda is. It’s their way or the highway, I guess.”

Trump factor

Amid the distrust and division within the GOP caucus — which escalated into a shouting match on the House floor on Wednesday between the Ryan and the leader of the Freedom Caucus — President Trump has, by many accounts, made the situation markedly worse.

First, amid growing outrage over the administration’s mass-separation of migrant children and parents, the president insisted for days that only congressional action could address the situation. He then made an abrupt about-face and signed an executive order that purports to keep families together in immigration detention. Both the text of the executive order and administration statements over the next few days called on Congress to pass legislation, but the House’s already precarious efforts to do so were thrown further off course by President Trump.

Ahead of the President’s Tuesday visit to Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers voiced hopes that Trump would rally them behind one of the two competing immigration bills and give them clarity on what he was willing to sign. Instead, Trump half-heartedly endorsed both bills, refused to take questions, and insulted Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) — alienating Sanford’s allies whose votes are desperately needed to pass a bill.

“The president needs to understand that that may have actually lost him votes at this meeting,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told TPM. “The reason he was there was to emphasize he had our backs and I think a different message was sent that day.”

As the House GOP leadership struggled to whip votes for their bill in the wake of this meeting, Trump wondered aloud “what is the purpose of the House doing good immigration bills” if they were likely to fail in the Senate, where Republicans have a much narrower majority. Then, on Friday, Trump tweeted again, telling House Republicans they were “wasting their time on Immigration.”

As leadership continued to insist a vote will be held, some lawmakers pointed to the lawmaker’s tweet as the final nail in the coffin.

“Torpedoed by tweet,” Rep. Ryan Costello quipped. “Tweet-pedoed.”

A unifying crisis

This week, even as the White House and many GOP lawmakers blamed the Democratic minority for their inability to pass an immigration bill, others openly admitted that the divided Republican caucus tends to only come together when motivated by a genuine crisis.

Over the past year, the crisis of the Trump administration abolishing the DACA program — putting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at risk of deportation — was temporarily diffused by federal courts. With President Trump’s frequent flip-flopping making the already-difficult negotiations nearly impossible, Republican efforts to pass a bill to protect Dreamers subsequently fizzled.

Another crisis of Trump’s own making —the zero tolerance policy tearing apart migrant families — spurred lawmakers back into action. But many say Trump’s executive order has removed the urgency for them to act, even though the order still allows the administration to separate migrant children and parents and does nothing to reunite the thousands already separated.

“If the problem is no longer there, the Congress will definitely not act to solve a future problem,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters. “If you want to solve the problem, the pressure of trying to get families and kids back together in the shortest period of time is probably the kind of dynamic we need.”

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) echoed this sentiment, telling TPM: “This immediate crisis seems to be going away. And if they aren’t arresting families every weekend, then yeah, it’s going away, from the public eye. And if it’s not in the public eye, if you don’t have the dramatic footage, there is always another issue that comes along. There’s a new issue every week.”

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