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Morning Plum: How Republicans are trying to hamstring Obama on immigration

On the surface, the partisan skirmishing over minors crossing the border seems like pretty straightforward political maneuvering, with Republicans trying to saddle Dems with blame for the debacle, and Dems blasting Republicans for heartlessness towards the plight of children fleeing horrible conditions at home.

But what’s really going on here is that both sides are trying to gain advantage in a future battle that will unfold after this crisis recedes: The war over Obama’s decision over how far to go in unilaterally easing deportations.

Multiple reports today indicate House Republicans may not pass anything addressing the border crisis before the August recess. There are divisions within both parties over how to proceed. Republicans are arguing over whether to include anti-DREAMers language in their response. Democrats are arguing over whether to change the 2008 trafficking law to speed removals. All the swirling differences may result in Congress punting on the crisis entirely. If that happens, it’s unclear how the politics will shake out, since both sides are taking a beating from the public over what’s happening.

But however it does play, the consequences could have a big impact on how far Obama goes in acting to solve the broader crisis on his own.

I strongly suspect much GOP rhetoric over the crisis is designed to achieve maximum constraint on Obama’s sense of what’s politically possible on unilaterally easing deportations. Case in point: Ted Cruz’s declaration that any GOP response to the crisis must defund Obama’s deferred-deportation program. Cruz has a history of revealing underlying political calculations with unvarnished clarity. He justified the government shutdown to stop Obamacare by arguing that once the law kicked in, people would like it and it would never be repealed.

Something similar may be happening on deportations. As Frank Sharry argues, Obama action on deportations could “permanently cement the reputation of the Democrats as for immigrants and for the changing American electorate and Republicans as against it.” It’s unclear how ambitious Obama will be. But given Cruz’s fevered view of #ObummerTyranny, he probably expects Obama to go big, and he may agree so doing would lock in Latinos for Dems. Hence the move to preclude it.

Beyond Cruz, the rhetoric from Republicans who disagree with him over including anti-DREAMer language in their immediate border response also seems designed to constrain future Obama action.  Republicans like John Boehner and Paul Ryan know their failure to act on immigration reform could be disastrous for the GOP, and they may agree with Cruz about the possible implications of Obama stepping into the void.

And so, their rhetoric, too, is all about linking Obama permissiveness on immigration policy with disorder and lawlessness along the border in the public mind. Like Cruz, they argue generally that deferred deportations for DREAMers is to blame for the current crisis. The broad case they are making is completely strained. It’s designed to use searing border visuals to hamstring future Obama action on interior deportation policy.

But it may work. However, there’s a risk for Republicans. If they punt on their current response, it could persuade Obama he can position himself as the only problem solver in the room on immigration, giving him more space to act unilaterally. Of course, to reap these benefits, Obama will have to be seen as managing the current crisis effectively. And he has not accomplished this — politically or substantively.

* REPUBLICANS DIVIDED OVER BORDER CRISIS: The Post has a good overview of the different border crisis proposals being pushed by Republicans. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are demanding changes to the 2008 trafficking law and other measures, while Ted Cruz is demanding language blocking any possible future efforts to expand Obama’s deferred-deportation program for the DREAMers:

Cruz told reporters that he rejected the idea that the 2008 law caused the flood of children at the border, saying that the surge happened only recently, after the 2012 executive action by Obama. “What caused this crisis was President Obama in 2012,” he said, suggesting that the “promise of amnesty” for children has led Central American families to send their children to the U.S. border.

Meanwhile, John Boehner is pessimistic about anything passing before the August recess. It’s unclear whether Cruz’s language or anything else can enable any response to the crisis to get through the House.

* REPUBLICANS THINK CRUZ’S PROPOSAL GOES TOO FAR: Related to the above: The Los Angeles Times reports that Senators such as Marco Rubio and Flake are openly criticizing Cruz’s demand for anti-DREAMer language in the GOP response to the border crisis:

Sen. Marco Rubio said while he agrees the Obama program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, should be halted, he worried that ending it now could be “too disruptive.”
“This would be too much,” said Sen. Jeff Flake,who has offered his own proposal, with Sen. John McCain, to stem the border crisis.

That’s nice, but in reality, many Republicans broadly agree with the overall policy goal of deporting all the DREAMers, even if they don’t want to put anti-DACA language in the current legislative response to the short term crisis.

* WHY BORDER CRISIS IS BIG TEST FOR BOEHNER: The Hill explains why it will be so hard to get any bill responding to the crisis through the House:

Both parties agree the border situation is a crisis, but moving a bill is likely to be a tall order given Democratic signals they’ll oppose any changes to existing laws meant to protect children from Central America seeking asylum in the United States. That’s likely to force Republicans to win most of the 218 votes from their own fractious conference on the controversial issue of immigration.

As noted the other day, the problem for Boeohner is that changes to the law to expedite removals might win over Republicans, but it would drive away Dems. With conservatives likely to attack any legislative response to the crisis, it’s unclear whether Boehner can find enough Republicans to pass it.

 * KOCH BROTHERS SPENDING A LOT MORE THAN YOU THOUGHT: Reid Wilson talks to Tim Phillips, the spokesman for the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, and learns that the group will be spending even more than the $125 million that’s been promised, and is reaching deep into state and local races:

Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million on the midterm elections understates the actual amount they will spend…AFP chapters across the country will focus on smaller races, too, where they can influence the makeup of state legislatures…Those investments in state and local races can pay dividends at the national level, Phillips said. Activists motivated to turn out against a local property tax, for example, can help get voters to the polls in federal elections.

It’s another reminder that the national political landscape can be influenced in all sorts of hidden ways by battles on the state and local levels, something progressives probably need to take more seriously.

* WHY DEMS ARE PUSHING SO HARD ON CONTRACEPTION: National Journal has an interesting take on what the Dem strategy of hitting Republicans over the Hobby Lobby decision is really designed to accomplish:

Democrats are not just hoping for another Todd Akin, they’re trying to create one — and they think the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision just helped them do it…Democrats are trying to keep the national conversation focused on reproductive rights, hoping to goad Republicans into talking about the issue. The more they talk about abortion and contraception, the thinking goes, the more time will be spent on an issue where Democrats think they have the upper hand — and the more likely a GOP candidate is to doom his campaign with an Akin-like gaffe.

It’s worth reiterating that at least four Republican Senate candidates have supported Personhood measures in some form, so anything is possible.

* THE ELIZABETH WARREN ROAD SHOW: Bill Scher has a good piece explaining why it doesn’t matter whether Elizabeth Warren is running for president; her campaign activities for Dems in 2014 could matter over the long term either way:

Warren’s 2014 road show is important in its own right. By stumping for long-shot Democrats in red states, raising and spreading around campaign cash, devising innovative legislation for candidates to borrow and, most importantly, sharpening the left’s rhetorical attack on Wall Street, Warren could have a major impact on the future of the Democratic Party, regardless of what she does in 2016.

Divisions among Democrats over economic policy tend to be overstated, but as Scher notes, Warren can have a lasting impact even by sharpening Democratic arguments about inequality and Wall Street accountability.

* PETERS EXPANDS LEAD IN MICHIGAN: A new EPIC-MIRA poll finds that Dem Gary Peters has expanded his lead over GOPer Terri Land in the Michigan Senate race to nine points, 45-36. This comes after an NBC poll earlier this week put Peters up by seven points.

The polling average has Peters ahead by four, so today’s poll could be an outlier (or a hint of a widening lead in the averages to come). If it proves the latter, this may be one place where GOP boasts of an expanded Senate map are perhaps overstated.

* CONSERVATIVES STILL IN GRIP OF ‘LIBERTARIAN FANTASIES’: Paul Krugman argues that “reform conservatives” who want the Fed to be doing more for the economy have run into a wall: the unwillingness of others on the right to abandon “libertarian fantasies” about inflation that never comes:

Modern American conservatism is deeply opposed to any form of government activism, and while monetary policy is sometimes treated as a technocratic affair, the truth is that printing dollars to fight a slump, or even to stabilize some broader definition of the money supply, is indeed an activist policy…inflation addiction is telling us something about the intellectual state of one side of our great national divide. The right’s obsessive focus on a problem we don’t have, its refusal to reconsider its premises despite overwhelming practical failure, tells you that we aren’t actually having any kind of rational debate. And that, in turn, bodes ill not just for would-be reformers, but for the nation.

What else?