Border Fight

On Border, a Huge Win for the Hard Right

The House’s border-bill vote was a big win for the right and Ted Cruz. And hey, Mr. Priebus, how’s that autopsy thing workin’ out for ya?

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Don’t be confused about what happened in the House of Representatives on Friday: It was a huge win for the far right, a major victory for Ted Cruz, an embarrassment for John Boehner, and, potentially, a pivotal moment that will make future dealings between the White House and congressional Republicans, if you can possibly believe it, far worse than they’ve been already.

What happened, as you probably know, is that Boehner had a bill ready to go Thursday, one he thought he had the votes to pass. Then Cruz rounded up some of the far-right members of the House GOP caucus and plotted a revolt. Boehner saw that his bill wasn’t going to pass and pulled it. Then, on Friday, Boehner and his leadership team sat down with these right-wingers and made a series of concessions to them.

It’s important to wrap your head around this. See, if you live on the same planet I live on, you think that the House of Representatives has been plenty conservative, and that Republicans there can hardly be accused of being too accommodating of Barack Obama. But if you live on tea party planet, Boehner has been a sellout. I know, I know. But it’s true.

Or it was true. Not anymore. Just read this account from Time’s Alex Rogers. He quotes winger after winger crowing about having finally won one. A Texan named Kenny Marchant said: “From the time I’ve ever been here…I’ve never seen them as responsive to the, I would call them the ‘No votes.’” He’s been there since 2005. And Steve King of Iowa was rhapsodizing. And Michele Bachmann: “What I saw in the last 24 hours is nothing short of remarkable. I couldn’t believe it. Leadership was like [point] one is reasonable, number two is reasonable. It gutted the bill, changed the bill.”

Republicans are getting a little credit in some of your more naive quarters for passing a bill at all and thus “dealing” with the border crisis. But of course that’s nonsense. House Republicans have no intention of dealing with the crisis. Their intention is to be able to go on television and say they’re dealing with the crisis. To be fair to them, this is more than the Senate did; it wasn’t able to pass its bill last week at all. But still, the Republican bills (there were actually two of them Friday) aren’t about dealing with the problem, which would involve, you know, actually negotiating with the Senate and the administration. They were just for show.

It’s all dandy for “Speaker Cruz,” who has now led his second insurrection against Boehner, winning both times. He will be the tea party presidential candidate in 2016, I think it’s now clear. I doubt he can win the nomination, but he and his backers will be extremely visible and vocal, and they’ll have the power to shift the intra-GOP debate further to the right than it already is. Last Friday on The News Hour, David Brooks and Mark Shields talked about the need for “an anti-Cruz” to emerge in the Senate. Nice idea. But who?

I could actually picture Lamar Alexander of Tennessee playing that role. He faces a tea-party challenger in a primary tomorrow for various little apostasies, but he is expected to win comfortably. Several Democrats have told me they respect Alexander and find him to be someone who actually would like to pass some legislation. So maybe if he does dispatch this challenger and he’s six years away from reelection, he’ll step up. But the list of potential anti-Cruzes is awfully short.

Meantime, the far right was just strengthened in a big way in the House, and it carries the obvious implications for future budget and spending battles. Appropriations bills are supposed to be passed in September to keep the government running. Another thing about planet tea party: Its occupants still want to slash government spending by massive amounts. After their win last week, they’re not going be shy about saying so.

Then next year sometime, we’ll have another debt-limit fight. Could come as early as March or as late as August/September. That one sticks in their craw. The last time the debt limit was raised, this past February, Boehner agreed in the end to do it with no strings attached. The House bill raising it passed almost wholly with Democrats. An emboldened right wing, especially facing off against a lame-duck Obama, won’t let that happen again.

So let’s review. After the last presidential election, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus did his little autopsy. We can’t just be the party of no. We specifically have to reach to Latinos and younger voters.

What’s happened since? OK, a couple of tea partiers lost primaries to more-mainstream conservatives. But the Washington Republican Party has become the party of no with even more brio and is specifically going out of its way to deliver as much offense to Latinos and young voters as it can possibly muster. In a piece last week, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn published some interesting poll numbers. People were asked by the Public Religion Research Institute what we should do about the situation at the border—offer shelter and support for the children while beginning a process to determine which should be deported and which permitted to stay, or deport them immediately.

Overall, Americans chose the former course of action—which would be dubbed “liberal” in Beltway-speak—by a thrashing 70 to 26 percent. Young people were 82-19. Every group supported the humane option, but only among three was it even kind of close: Republicans were 57-39; white evangelical Protestants were 56-39; and those 65 or older were 50-45.

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That’s who the GOP is. Seven of 10 Americans wants us to take reasonable action, and Republicans respond by gutting a bill that was a sham in the first place and replacing it with an even bigger sham. And the far right gained power in the process. Now remind me, why do some people keep writing the tea party’s obituary?