Republican Restraint: The GOP and Immigration Reform
“[Obama has] gotten in the job of counterfeiting immigration papers, because there’s no legal authority to do what he’s doing,” asserted Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). “The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” said Speaker John Boehner. Representative Matt Salmon (AZ-5) called the move an “impeachable offense.” This heavy, accusatory rhetoric has been flowing from Capitol Hill since just before President Obama’s announcement last Thursday that he would be moving forward with an executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. While accusations fly from the left and the right, Congress has yet to create a substantial legislative response to the demand for immigration reform. This lagged response could be attributed to the Republican’s sometimes incoherent stance on the issue, which have muddied any semblance of a unified response besides vague disapproval.
However, there is a far more telling reason for this lack of a legislative response: Republicans in Congress have gone down the rabbit hole of an overblown responses to President Obama’s actions once and they don’t want to go back. With Republican leadership urging restraint from their freshmen congressmen, it has become increasingly obvious that Republicans think there could be a more political motive behind Obama’s executive action. The head of a national, GOP-aligned Republican group told POLITICO,
“I think the president is counting on a Republican overreaction, where it really takes over the agenda of the new Congress … I think this president is counting on an overreach.” Representative Tom Cole (OK-4), a Boehner ally and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman added, “I don’t think we want to do something that plays into the president’s hands and hurts us, especially after last year’s experience with shutdowns and showdowns. … When your opponent sets a bear trap for you, you don’t respond by stepping into it.”
The GOP had a lesson in the consequences of political overreach when the Republican-controlled House shut down the government in October of 2013, creating a public relations disaster for the party (a misstep largely forgotten after the botched rollout of healthcare.gov). The Republican leadership has gone so far as to address the possibility of another shut down –Representative Marsha Blackburn (TN-7) denied its potential as a GOP response, saying “I’ve heard no one mention a shutdown except the press.” Republicans – who are already facing an unfriendly Senate map in 2016 – are eager to stay far away from anything that could hurt their approval ratings or feed into the already festering perception that they are unready and unable to govern.
Despite some low expectations for how the incoming GOP majority will behave once in power, the Republicans already seem to have learned one thing: keep your head down and don’t take Mr. Obama’s bait. If they work around this executive order on legislation that reflects the new majority’s views they can avoid the media hail storm caused, ironically, by an overreaction in the form of inaction.
- Alaina Haworth