Squandering a GOP Majority

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Editorial,WSJ

House Republicans walk into Obama’s immigration trap.

BN-HE426_edp030_M_20150301170700A majority in Congress is a terrible thing to waste, but only two months into their largest majority since the 1920s Republicans are well on the way. Their latest mental breakdown is over their attempt to overturn President Obama ’s order ending deportations for some five million illegal immigrants.

Once again the fight comes down to recognizing political reality, or marching off a cliff to almost certain failure. The Cliff Marchers refuse to vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security without a provision barring the enforcement of Mr. Obama’s immigration orders going back to 2012. But the House bill has failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. That puts DHS on the cusp of a partial shutdown.

On Friday the House and Senate voted to fund DHS, but only for a week and only with the help of Democrats. Speaker John Boehner ’s plan to fund the department for three weeks came crashing down when 52 Republicans revolted. The revolters effectively put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House. So the GOP will now consume itself in more recriminations as it squanders more of its first 100 days.
Opinion Journal Video
Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot on the Republican Party’s split over immigration and the impending shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The sad if predictable irony is that this is exactly what Mr. Obama hoped to incite with his November immigration order. He wanted to goad an overreaction that made the GOP look both anti-immigrant and intemperate enough to shut down the government.

The double irony is that, in shutting down part of DHS, the Republicans would also give Mr. Obama an opening to claim the political high ground on national security. He’d blame the GOP for putting at risk the defenses against a terrorist threat that his own policies have allowed to proliferate.

The smart play now would be for Republicans to fund DHS and move on to more promising policy ground including the budget. Texas and other states that oppose the order have already won a legal victory when a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against implementing it. The Administration has appealed, but even if it wins in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the issue is likely to go the Supreme Court.

The Cliff Marchers dismiss this as surrender and are insisting on a long fight over the immigration order even if it means a partial DHS shutdown. (We say partial because some 85% of DHS’s 240,000 workers are deemed essential and would still report for duty even if the government deferred their pay. The core security functions of DHS would continue.) The GOP dissenters say they’d prevail over time as the public came to see Mr. Obama’s fealty to his immigration diktat as the real cause of the shutdown.

Miracles do happen, but in every previous shutdown the voters blamed Republicans more than Mr. Obama. And if there is a terror attack, good luck explaining that Congress isn’t to blame because those DHS workers were supposed to be on the job even if they weren’t being paid.

Some of the Cliff Marchers are also demanding that Republicans break Senate rules and cashier the filibuster to pass the House bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked up that theme Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He pointed out that 57 Senators, including four Democrats, had voted to oppose Mr. Obama’s November order.

But busting the filibuster on policy would have ramifications far beyond this fight. Republicans would have to violate Senate rules, which require a two-thirds vote to change a rule midsession. They would also exceed what even Democrat Harry Reid did in breaking the filibusters for executive nominations.

Most important, this would remove what has long been a procedural barrier to narrow liberal majorities rewriting labor and election laws to hurt conservatives. If Republicans are going to throw out the filibuster, it should be done based on more than the desperation of a rump group in the House.

The immigration fiasco raises the larger question of whether House Republicans can even function as a majority. Some backbenchers are whispering that they’ll work with Democrats to oust Mr. Boehner as Speaker if he doesn’t follow their shutdown strategy. Some are also plotting to take down a procedural rule, which would mean handing control to Democrats.

Mr. Boehner has made mistakes, one of which is bending too much to the shutdown caucus. But let’s say the no-compromise crowd did succeed in humiliating the Speaker, and he resigned. What then? Whom do coup plotters want to put in charge?

Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan has support across the House GOP, but why would he want to run a majority that is hostage to the whim of 50 Members who care more about appeasing talk radio than achieving conservative victories?

Republicans need to do some soul searching about the purpose of a Congressional majority, including whether they even want it. If they really think Mr. Boehner is the problem, then find someone else to do his thankless job. If not, then start to impose some order and discipline and advance the conservative cause rather than self-defeating rebellion.

Miracles do happen, but in every previous shutdown the voters blamed Republicans more than Mr. Obama. And if there is a terror attack, good luck explaining that Congress isn’t to blame because those DHS workers were supposed to be on the job even if they weren’t being paid.

Some of the Cliff Marchers are also demanding that Republicans break Senate rules and cashier the filibuster to pass the House bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy picked up that theme Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He pointed out that 57 Senators, including four Democrats, had voted to oppose Mr. Obama’s November order.

But busting the filibuster on policy would have ramifications far beyond this fight. Republicans would have to violate Senate rules, which require a two-thirds vote to change a rule midsession. They would also exceed what even Democrat Harry Reid did in breaking the filibusters for executive nominations.

Most important, this would remove what has long been a procedural barrier to narrow liberal majorities rewriting labor and election laws to hurt conservatives. If Republicans are going to throw out the filibuster, it should be done based on more than the desperation of a rump group in the House.

The immigration fiasco raises the larger question of whether House Republicans can even function as a majority. Some backbenchers are whispering that they’ll work with Democrats to oust Mr. Boehner as Speaker if he doesn’t follow their shutdown strategy. Some are also plotting to take down a procedural rule, which would mean handing control to Democrats.

Mr. Boehner has made mistakes, one of which is bending too much to the shutdown caucus. But let’s say the no-compromise crowd did succeed in humiliating the Speaker, and he resigned. What then? Whom do coup plotters want to put in charge?

Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan has support across the House GOP, but why would he want to run a majority that is hostage to the whim of 50 Members who care more about appeasing talk radio than achieving conservative victories?

Republicans need to do some soul searching about the purpose of a Congressional majority, including whether they even want it. If they really think Mr. Boehner is the problem, then find someone else to do his thankless job. If not, then start to impose some order and discipline and advance the conservative cause rather than self-defeating rebellion.

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