Immigration flop boosts Boehner critics

  • 1 August 2014
  • comments
Speaker of the House John Boehner.

It was supposed to be different this time. The sheer volume of Central American children coming across the US southern border was such that Congress would have to take action on some form of immigration reform to address the crisis.

Reports of legislative life, however, appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

On Thursday Speaker of the House John Boehner was unable gather the requisite support from his caucus for his party's immigration bill, and plans for an afternoon vote were scrapped.

With the August congressional recess looming, chances for any sort of measure to be passed before legislators head back to their home districts and gear up for the fall's election campaign appear to be dwindling.

The bill, which would have authorised $659m (£391m) in funding for border detention facilities and security and rescinded a 2008 policy delaying the deportation of Central American children, did not go far enough for grassroots Tea Party conservatives.

Most prominently, it did not address President Barack Obama's 2012 decision to suspend deportations of children who came into the US at a young age - the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme.

Conservatives blame the president's unilateral action - enacting through executive order a policy Congress had considered but failed to pass in previous years - as the driving factor for the recent influx of tens of thousands of child immigrants.

The latest developments have renewed criticisms of Mr Boehner's ability to lead his Republicans in the House - as he's seen his party fracture over issues like increasing the US debt limit, passing a federal budget and agriculture appropriations.

Image caption Ted Cruz's fingerprints are on another conservative revolt in the House of Representatives

Salon's Simon Maloy writes:

"This is the story of John Boehner's speakership: He does nothing until circumstances force his hand; he waits until the last minute to act, trusting that the ticking clock and partisan loyalty will be enough to get him over the finish line; and then he faces the inevitable, predictable embarrassment that comes from relying on a bunch of anti-government zealots who hate the Republican establishment almost as much as they hate Barack Obama. It happens over and over, again and again."

According to the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, the problem is larger than a simple lack of leadership on Mr Boehner's part, however. It's the latest battle in an ongoing war for the soul of the Republican Party:

"What Thursday's machinations proved - or, maybe more accurately, re-proved - is that no matter what happens at the ballot box this fall, the Republican Party is in the midst of a massive intraparty struggle that makes it incapable of laying out its own vision for governance."

As with any good story of unrest and conflict, fingers point to a Machiavellian outsider quietly pulling the strings - in this case, Senator Ted Cruz.

The Texas Republican had condemned the House leadership's proposed bill as ineffective and held a closed-door meeting with House conservatives on Wednesday night. A similar series of events played out last October, when Mr Cruz was considered instrumental in leading a Tea Party revolt against House leadership, which was trying to avoid a government shutdown.

"Ted Cruz and a handful of Republicans have hijacked the party," Republican Representative Peter King of New York told the press on Thursday night.

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson defended Mr Cruz, saying he was one of the few Republicans who was willing to stand up for rolling back Daca.

The House leadership "would rather be embarrassed in their failure to do anything than do the right thing and close this programme", he writes.

Protein Wisdom blogger Jeff Goldstein cheered on the Cruz-led Tea Party forces, who put principles ahead of expediency.

"Once again we'll hear lectures about the political optics of all this, rather than celebrate the fact that we the people have just enough Tea Party types left in office to trouble the statist GOP establishment and flummox their plans," he writes.

Meanwhile in the Senate, the outlook for legislative action doesn't look much brighter. A $2.7b (£1.6b) bill to address the border crisis received 50 votes, 10 short of the number needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

In other words, even if the House had managed to pass a bill - or if it successfully regroups and approves a measure on Friday - chances of an actual piece of legislation emerging from Congress are slim to none.

New crisis, same (lack of) results.