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Republicans tried to hammer Biden on immigration. But they turned into a circular firing squad

It looks like the GOP just overplayed its hand

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Monday 29 January 2024 20:57 GMT
(Getty Images)
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President Joe Biden might finally be running out of patience with Republicans when it comes to negotiations surrounding an agreement to restrict immigration in exchange for aid to Ukraine.

After weeks of negotiations, Republicans hit a snag last week as former president Donald Trump came out swinging against any agreement. That forced Senate GOP leadership to recalibrate. On top of that, House Speaker Mike Johnson — who leads a far more rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Ukraine conference than Mitch McConnell leads in the Senate — wrote in a letter to colleagues that the agreement “would have been dead on arrival in the House anyway.”

On Friday evening, Biden released a statement saying that the proposed legislation would give him the ability to “shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed” and that he would invoke the authority the day he signs the bill into law.

Of course, being able to “shut down the border” is an amorphous term and the definition of shutting it down lies in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, Biden wants to have some kind of agreement not only because he wants to free up dollars to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia: A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll from last week showed that more voters consider immigration their top policy concern than the economy.

Republicans have battered Biden on the border ever since he took office, essentially flipping the dynamic after Donald Trump faced numerous negative headlines about family separation and the infamous Mexican border wall. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has even bused migrants to cities with Democratic mayors. That particular move led New York’s mayor Eric Adams to openly criticize Biden.

But Republicans might have gotten high on their own supply when it comes to immigration. As Inside Washington explained last week, Republicans delaying passing an immigration bill to allow Trump to benefit makes it hard for them to argue that the influx of migrants is a crisis that requires immediate addressing. If passing a bill can wait 12 months, then it’s hardly urgent.

Right-wing opposition to the immigration legislation also means that Republicans are turning against each other.

On Sunday, Fox News host Shannon Bream asked Senator James Lankford, the chief Republican negotiator, why he would give Biden the “cover of this deal” which she said would allow people into the United States. Lankford responded by saying four months ago, Republicans united to say they would demand changes in policy “and now it’s interesting a few months later, when we’re finally getting to the end, they’re like, just kidding. We actually don’t want a change in law because of a presidential election year.”

Lankford, a hardline conservative from Oklahoma, has staked much of his credibility on the legislation. So he’s understandably frustrated to see opposition. And shortly after making his case, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, a Trump ally, said on the same Fox program that Lankford was on a “suicide mission.” That also gives Scott the added benefit of knifing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with whom he has a tenuous relationship.

Republicans likely had a chance to pass the legislation before Trump returned to his role of being the de facto nominee. But his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire — as well as the coalescing of the GOP around him — has meant that they have to defer to what he dictates.

The ultimate sign that Republicans might be overconfident is their plan to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Why? It’s not entirely clear. But what is apparent is that Johnson, who is a little more than three months into the job, has chosen to appeal to the most far-right factions of his conference.

Holding a series of sideshow hearings for a secretary most people have never heard of will do little to shed light on whether laws are being enforced at the border. But it will allow figures like committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene to pontificate and get more television air time. Indeed, Greene came out strongly against the bipartisan bill in the Senate, despite the fact no text exists.

It appears that Biden is attempting to create a foil to the feud. By saying he would willingly close the border if given the means to do so, he wants to put the pressure on Republicans to pass the bill. If not, he hopes to hammer them for not giving him the power to curb immigration into the US.

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