The Republicans Actually Want a Border Crisis
The House GOP opposing a deal on border security reveals their dangerously cynical political strategy
While most of the media attention has turned toward the relatively boring and predictable GOP primary, there are still events happening in Washington that impact the country and the upcoming general election. Late Thursday night, Congress barely avoided a partial government shutdown borne of Republican incompetence and intransigence. This was no great accomplishment. The Republicans just kicked the can down the road, and we will be staring down another shutdown in early March. The other issue bedeviling Congress is President Biden’s request for funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and natural disasters. The more extreme House Republicans, including Speaker “MAGA” Mike Johnson, oppose the money for Ukraine and declared that they won’t approve Biden’s request without “dealing with the crisis at the border.”
Unlike their Trumpier colleagues in the House, Mitch McConnell and a good number of Senate Republicans support the Ukraine aid. To move forward, Senate Republicans and Democrats have been working with the White House on a deal that includes more money and policy changes. No deal has been struck, and the details have not been shared.
Last week, President Biden invited all of the Congressional Leaders to the White House for a meeting to try to make some progress on resolving the impasse. However, Johnson spoke to reporters BEFORE the meeting to announce that he was opposed to the still-evolving Senate border deal, the details of which he hadn’t yet seen.
To summarize, Johnson demands a border bill in exchange for passing Ukraine aid; the White House and Senate work on a border bill; Johnson opposes the bill without even seeing it, despite repeatedly declaring that the “crisis at the border” is the House GOP’s top priority.
Some commentary suggests that Johnson keeps moving the goalpost to prevent his caucus from having to vote on Ukraine aid, which is vehemently opposed by MAGA Republicans but enthusiastically supported by the Republican establishment and more moderate GOPers. With Johnson in perpetual danger of being McCarthy-ed, I am sure avoiding a tough vote is a factor. However, I think Johnson and the Republicans have another more nefarious reason — they want a crisis at the border to help them in the election.
The Republicans see the border as a huge political vulnerability for President Biden. I am dubious that it is the surefire political winner that the MAGA set believes, but there’s no question the Right has used their propaganda apparatus and cruel stunts with migrant families to put the situation at the border on the radar screen for the electorate.
This is not just a phenomenon among Republicans consuming Fox News. Nearly a quarter of Democrats and half of Independents call it a “crisis.” And 75% of all Americans say what is happening at the border is either a “crisis” or “very serious.”
Polling suggests that immigration and the border are the issues on which Biden’s approval is the lowest. Through agitprop and misleading messaging, Republicans see an opportunity to make the situation at the border an evocative example of chaos on Biden’s watch and advance the narrative that Biden is too weak to protect Americans.
Evidence of Political Motivation
There are two pieces of evidence demonstrating that Republicans would rather have a crisis to exploit than an actual solution. First, whatever deal the Senate comes up with will be the best deal that Republicans will get on an issue they say is a “top priority.” Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Mitch McConnell had to say the other day:
“If we had a 100 percent Republican government — president, House, Senate — we probably would not be able to get a single Democratic vote to pass what Senator Lankford and the administration are trying to get together on. So this is a unique opportunity to accomplish something in divided government that wouldn’t be there under unified government.
Opposing this deal — whatever it is — is not some negotiating ploy to get a better deal. I don’t know what’s in this deal and I doubt I would like much of it, but from the Republican perspective, this is the best deal they could get. As Johnson presumably understands, nothing to the right of this deal can pass the Senate or be signed by Biden. If you want a solution at the border, this is it.
Second, in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, Speaker Johnson admitted to talking with Trump about opposing a border deal.
Per The Hill's interview:
Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Wednesday night that the former president is “extremely adamant” that the Speaker should be against the deal and that the president can take executive action on the border without “some new bill.”
“President Trump is not wrong,” Johnson responded. “He and I have been talking about this pretty frequently.”
Trump opposes this deal because he wants to beat Biden over the head with the situation at the border. He can imagine Biden running ads touting his “historic, bipartisan deal to secure the border.” Trump and Johnson do not want to give Biden a win on what they view as his greatest vulnerability.
Johnson is taking a page from Paul Ryan’s book. In 2011, Ryan helped convince Speaker Boehner to scuttle a budget deal with Obama because Ryan was worried that it would help Obama win the 2012 election (this is one of the primary reasons why I hate Paul Ryan so much).
Trump and MAGA Mike are engaging in the worst, most cynical sort of politics.
Making Them Pay
Presuming the details of the Senate deal are within the range of what would be acceptable, getting a border deal and passing aid for Ukraine and Israel would be the best outcome for President Biden and the Democrats (which is why Trump wants to stop it). We might be forced to play the cards we are dealt, but Democrats can and should make the Republicans pay for their cynical ploy.
The voters are very open to an argument that the House Republicans are blocking progress on the border. In the CBS News/YouGov poll, the public’s view of how Congressional Republicans are handling the border is no better than their view of Biden.
If a bipartisan deal is reached in the Senate and Mike Johnson follows through with his Trump-influenced pledge to kill it, Democrats should hammer Republicans for putting politics over border policy. It’s easy to imagine Biden using the State of the Union to make this case or responding to Trump on a debate stage. The Republicans will only get away with it if we let them.