Amid apparent infighting in the Oklahoma Republican Party, a resolution was passed over the weekend to formally condemn Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who has caught the ire of Donald Trump supporters for working on the bipartisan immigration bill that Trump had asked congressional Republicans to spike.
There appear to be bigger tensions within the Oklahoma GOP ranks that have left some current and former members of the state Republican Party calling that condemnation vote — which accused Lankford of “playing fast and loose with Democrats” on border policy they say is antithetical to the state party’s platform — illegitimate. But the move to punish Lankford, legitimate or not, signals that GOP activists are taking Trump’s cue, and repercussions may be coming down the pike for any Republican who dares to defy the former president in his attempt to torpedo the legislation.
My colleague Kate Riga reported on this unraveling dynamic last week. In short, Trump has been communicating to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and other Republicans in Congress that border deal is “bad” and should be dropped. That’s not because he or any other Republicans besides those working on the bipartisan commission have seen the language of the bill. It’s because solving the border “crisis” now gives Republicans one less thing to campaign on during a presidential cycle in which they, once again, have no policy platform. Trump himself also wants to use it to attack Biden in the months leading up to the general election.
Trump has openly criticized the bill as a “gift” to Democrats during a presidential election year. Over the weekend, he doubled down, telling supporters at a Las Vegas rally on Saturday that he’s fine accepting the blame for killing the bill, which is not only the result of months of bipartisan negotiations, but was also intended to be coupled with aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.
“As the leader of our party, there is zero chance I will support this horrible open borders betrayal of America,” Trump said Saturday. “I’ll fight it all the way. A lot of the senators are trying to say, respectfully, they’re blaming it on me. I say, that’s okay. Please blame it on me. Please.”
In response to the perhaps-toothless condemnation from his state party, Lankford went on “Fox News Sunday” to defend the bill and the work he and other Republican and Democratic senators are doing in the face of Trump’s baldly political strong arming. He called out his fellow Republicans for going along with the former president’s campaign gambit.
“So we actually locked arms together and said we’re not going to give you money for this. We want a change in law,” Lankford said on “Fox News Sunday.” “When we’re finally going to the end, they’re like, ‘Oh, just kidding. I actually don’t want a change in law because it’s a presidential election year.’ We all have an oath to the Constitution and we have a commitment to say we’re going to do whatever we can to be able to secure the border.”
It all reflects a point that Democrats began to make last week as Trump executed his power play: Republicans think a “crisis” at the border will help them during an election year, good faith efforts to address it be damned. Trump is fine with airing that strategy out in the open, as he is wont to do.
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