“Listen, this is a problem of the president’s own making. He’s been president for five and a half years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?”
That was House Speaker John Boehner yesterday, blasting Obama over his request for $3.7 billion in funds to address the crisis at the border through expedited removals and more care for kids crossing into South Texas.
This quote may come back and bite the Speaker on his hindquarters.
While plenty of attention has been lavished, rightly, on what a major political problem the crisis poses for Obama, if you think a few moves ahead, it could pose a major test for Boehner, too. Can the Speaker get $4 billion in spending for Obama to address the crisis through the House? And even if he does, how can he do it without finding himself in a familiar place, i.e., in the cross-hairs of conservatives who don’t want the spending to pass, leaving him in need of many Dem votes?
Despite Boehner’s public rhetoric, there are signs he wants to get to Yes on funding the response to the crisis, probably because saying No is terrible politics for the GOP. Politico reports that Boehner privately told Republicans they should approve it before August recess. Meanwhile, some Republican officials and strategists are warning that failing to come through with funding is not a political option.
And yet, it’s possible major conservative groups will oppose the eventual funding package. Heritage Action has already condemned the president’s request. The Club for Growth doesn’t typically weigh in on immigration, but this is about spending, and if the money contains no offsets with cuts elsewhere, it’s not impossible the Club could oppose it, too.
Asked if Heritage Action would “score” votes on the proposal, the group’s spokesman, Dan Holler, suggested this option is on the table. “Heritage is opposed to the proposed supplemental and will continue monitoring legislative developments,” Holler told me.
There are two components here. The first is the spending itself. Some House Republicans — and fiscal conservatives — could oppose the bill on these grounds, particularly if the spending is not offset or if the offsets are deemed gimmicky. The second is what the money could be spent on. A big bloc of the money would fund care for kids in custody — as opposed to securing the border. As Jonathan Cohn points out, the current package may be short on what it needs for humanitarian purposes. And yet many House Republicans who are wedded to border-security-only-and-forever rhetoric may oppose this spending.
Now, the final package may include legal changes allowing for faster removals, giving cover to some Republicans to support the funding by allowing them to argue that they forced Obama to get tougher on the border in exchange for it. But the bottom line may be that some House Republicans who see this as Obama’s mess just may not want to support giving him money to help him clean it up.
That could leave Boehner in the position of angering some on his right flank, even as he needs a bunch of Dem votes to pass the bill. But if it contains too many legal changes — which could weaken legal and humanitarian protections for kids — it could lose Democrats. Does all of this sound familiar?
In fairness, the supplemental has to get through the Senate first. That certainly isn’t going to be easy. But with GOP Senators like Lindsey Graham voicing support for it, and John Cornyn, Jeff Flake and John McCain working on their own versions of it, Dem aides think they will probably get something passed. “The House is another matter,” one Dem aide tells me.
If the Senate passes funding to address the crisis, but the House kills it, that would put Republicans in a pretty dicey political position — Boehner would not have “taken responsibility” for his own chamber’s role in solving this unfolding disaster.
Interestingly, that could bode well for future unilateral Obama action on immigration. “It’s reasonable to think House Republicans who killed immigration reform will also kill funding to fix the crisis of kids crossing the border,” Frank Sharry of America’s Voice tells me. “That would leave Obama as the only adult on the field, giving him space to both redeploy money and personnel to deal with kids at the border and to go big on executive action for undocumented immigrants settled in America.”
Now, it’s very possible the funding will end up passing the House, perhaps comfortably. But Boehner may have to preside over another ugly sludge-fest to get us there.