The GOP’s Border Spectacle




WSJ, Editorial Board

The party melts down one more time over immigration.

CruzRepublicans should be heading toward a November election victory, perhaps even a big one, adding to their House majority and maybe picking up the six or more seats necessary to control the Senate. Yet never underestimate their ability to save the day for Democrats, not least by showcasing the GOP’s immigration neuralgia.

The House GOP looked ready Friday to pass a bill to address the influx of children over the Southwest border, though not before providing another spectacle of internal disarray. The bill should have been a moment to redirect attention to President Obama’s cynical handling of the border problem and to the Democratic Party’s immigration divisions. Instead the GOP again gave the country the impression that its highest policy priority is to deport as many children as rapidly as possible back from wherever they came.

Earlier this week Speaker John Boehner had his caucus lined up to pass a modest bill that would have provided the Obama Administration with $659 million to deal with the border influx, while tweaking a provision in a 2008 law that even President Obama has said has encouraged the flood of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. This would have allowed Republicans to return home for the August recess saying they had voted to address the border problem and put pressure on the White House and Senate Democrats to act.

Instead, the GOP’s Deportation Caucus—led by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz of Texas—lobbied House conservatives to resist any immigration compromise and pick a fight with Mr. Boehner. The dissenters demanded an array of policy changes, most notably new restrictions on the President’s executive order allowing some undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children to remain in the country.

Readers may recall that the last Republican in an election year to support deporting immigrant children brought here through no fault of their own was Mitt Romney. A splendid voter attraction that was. “The only way to stop the border crisis is to stop Obama’s amnesty,” declared Mr. Cruz, as he rallied House GOP members to vote against the bill.

Iowa’s Steve King and Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann were only too happy to follow the Senators into this cul de sac. And by Thursday evening the Republican caucus disintegrated into a screaming match on the floor in full view of the national media. Our sources say that nearly the entire Alabama delegation defected (thanks to Mr. Sessions) as did numerous participants at a Wednesday huddle held in Mr. Cruz’s office. House leaders had little choice but to pull the bill.

The result was to kill a solution to the border issue that Republicans have been declaring is a “crisis” that demands action. It also distracted attention from the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid couldn’t deliver on the President’s border request.

Mr. Reid knows that Senate Democrats are also split on immigration—between liberals who want to use the border bill to loosen immigration restrictions and Senators running for re-election who want to vote with the GOP. The latter include Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan. As usual, Mr. Reid refused to allow any amendments on his $2.7 billion border bill, dooming it so he could blame Republicans for the failure.

This Democratic use of border children as midterm-election pawns should be the story, but instead the Deportation Republicans played into Mr. Obama’s hands. Right on cue, the President held a press event on Friday at the White House that tatooed the GOP for refusing to solve the problem they claim is a crisis. The truth is that Mr. Obama doesn’t even care if the border bill passes. What he really wants is the immigration issue to bash Republicans and drive Hispanic and other minority turnout in states like Colorado that could determine Senate control.

House Republicans may have scrambled enough on Friday to save themselves from a total meltdown. But this latest immigration debacle won’t help the party’s image, which is still recovering from the government shutdown debacle of 2011. A party whose preoccupation is deporting children is going to alienate many conservatives, never mind minority voters.

The episode is also sure to raise doubts among swing voters about whether Republicans would be prepared to govern if they do win control of the entire Congress. Let’s hope they spend August planning how to return in the fall like a party that looks ready to do something other than fight with each other.

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