Cruz Missile Shoots Down Border Bill

The House’s modest emergency spending bill to address the child migrant crisis was scuttled yesterday after the GOP leadership failed to convince the Tea Party caucus to vote for it. I harrumphed about it last night. Cillizza breaks down how it happened, for anyone who can’t already guess:

The failure of the GOP leadership’s immigration solution fits a now-familiar pattern for congressional Republicans. Led by Boehner, the party’s top brass fight with President Obama on the parameters of a legislative solution to a problem in the country.  In hopes of answering the “do nothing” charges leveled at them by Democrats, those same GOP leaders put a proposal on the table that offers a handful of concessions but nowhere near the number the White House is demanding. The tea party faction in the House — led by Sen. Ted Cruz (yes, you read that right) — balks, demanding that the GOP make no concessions of any sort to the president. The party leaders whip support for the bill but, ultimately, find that 20 (or so) of their conference will not be for it under any circumstances. That means Boehner either has to a) pass legislation with Democratic votes or b) pull proposals off the House floor to avoid embarrassing losses.

The issues change — tax increases, immigration, the farm bill and so on and so forth — but the underlying reality remains the same: House Republicans simply cannot be led.

Chait, too, has seen this show before:

The House is a highly autocratic chamber that traditionally passes basically anything the leadership of its majority party wants to pass. The Tea Party has changed all that, by bringing to Washington a large enough bloc of Republicans who don’t want to vote for anything that they can bring down even bills that are far too conservative to be passed into law. That’s why House Republicans have had to pull bills to lift the debt ceilingextend tax cutsextend farm subsidies, and reopen the government. In Boehner’s House, failure is always an option.

This particular bill pitted the GOP’s desire to actually stop waves of illegal immigration children from streaming across the border — theoretically a point of bipartisan agreement — against their distrust of Obama in particular and legislation in general. Republicans dealt with the problem, as they often do, by crafting the most conservative possible bill — thus losing all Democratic support — yet still not often to win support from enough Republicans.

Vinik looks at the role Cruz played:

Since his election in 2012, Cruz has angered a number of his Senate colleagues. He was the architect of the “defund Obamacare” movement last year that ended in a politically toxic government shutdown and eventual Republican capitulation. In February, Cruz forced some of his Republican colleagues to take a politically-damaging vote to raise the debt ceiling. In all of these situations, Cruz has been focused on his own political future, staking out a position as far to the right as he can. He didn’t care that his antics damaged the party. They were good for Ted Cruzand that’s what mattered.

That’s what happened again on Thursday with the House GOP’s bill to address the border crisis. And it’s going to continue happening in the future, particularly on immigration-related issues where Cruz has always taken a hard line position.

Ben Jacobs remarks on what a blow this is to the party leadership:

The failure of the vote, which comes just before Congress’s August recess, means it is unlikely that any additional funds will be allocated to deal with the border crisis until September at the earliest—and also signals the official death of the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. It also marks yet another political defeat for Boehner and House leadership in what was the first test of new Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who recently took over the position when former Whip Kevin McCarthy ascended to Majority Leader. McCarthy replaced Eric Cantor, who stepped down after losing his primary last month to anti-immigration candidate Dave Brat.

Scalise, as whip, is responsible for party discipline and making sure that Boehner has an accurate sense of how many votes he has within the GOP caucus on a particular bill. This was the first controversial vote that the Louisiana conservative had to organize Republicans for in his new position, and it’s clear that he wasn’t able to rally as much support among GOP backbenchers as he initially thought.

After the bill failed, Boehner and his deputies suggested that the president take executive action on the crisis instead, which was pure political gold for Democrats, and pretty rich at that:

Democrats got plenty of yuks out of the House GOP’s response to the failure. In a joint statement, the party’s four House leaders attempts to move blame and the buck back over to Barack Obama. “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action,” they wrote, “to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.” Faiz Shakir, an adviser for Harry Reid, immediately tweeted the punchline: “The same people who are suing the president for taking exec action are calling on him to take exec action.” A little cute, maybe, but for the umpteenth time—the first day of a new leadership team!—the House GOP leadership has stepped on a rake.

Noah Rothman is disappointed for reasons of politics, not policy:

Lacking the authority to resolve the border crisis on their own, the House GOP sought an advantageous position for the summer in order to put the onus back on the president. That effort failed and, unless the House Republicans’ emergency scramble to craft and pass some border measure is fruitful, GOP members will spend the summer explaining to the press why they did nothing on a “crisis” but were perfectly united when it came to suing the president. And the average Democratic base voter will be that much more energized for it. …

This was an unforced error. One which serves to elevate the careers of a few while diminishing the party’s overall chances for success in November. The House Republicans may yet correct this mistake, and the damage might be mitigated if they do. But if they do not, this is going to be one long August recess.

But the Bloomberg View editors refocus on the fact that the child migrant crisis is, y’know, a crisis:

The protection of refugees — legitimate and otherwise — is both a moral crisis and a policy challenge. These children are a genuine strain on the immigration system, and adjudicating their cases will cost money. At the same time, many have fled violence and deserve a chance to make their case for asylum. Meanwhile, House leaders have delayed a planned recess, in the apparent hope that they can still achieve the goal of appearing to do something. When members return, Election Day will be that much closer. It’s not easy to imagine that this Congress could reach new lows. But it may.