Immediately after the government reopened, President Obama began the work of trying to resuscitate his second-term agenda. "We should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system," he said on Thursday. But Republicans don't see it that way:
Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho told a Heritage Foundation forum on Wednesday that “it would be crazy” for House Republicans now to negotiate with the president on immigration, because “he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party.”
As Greg Sargent notes, Labrador is an important voice in the Republican Party on immigration, so his reflexive rejection matters. But his reasoning astounds.
There's a tension in the Republican Party's portrayal of Obama in which he's thought, on one hand, to be a naif who's in way over his head and, on the other, a grand chessmaster executing an intricate strategy to annihilate his political opposition.
The answer, of course, is that Obama is neither. He's a center-left technocrat who wants to get immigration done. And getting immigration done, most everyone agrees, would be good for the Republican Party. It's possibly necessary for its very survival. What's standing in the way isn't Obama's determination to destroy the GOP. It's the GOP's determination to destroy itself.
In 2012, 71 percent of Hispanic voters, and 73 percent of Asian voters, marked their ballot for Obama. Those aren't survivable numbers for the Republican Party. And immediately after the election, Republicans mobilized to try to do something about them. It's often forgotten now, but a lot of the pressure to pass immigration reform was coming not from Democratic politicians but from key Republican voices like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan and Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer.
That was enough to get an immigration bill through the Senate with a big, bipartisan vote. But then Speaker Boehner declined to bring the bill up in the House, even though most observers believed it would pass. And House Republicans have been incapable of coming up with a bill of their own, even though, as Byron York notes, some of them are still trying.
The unifying excuses for the GOP's failure to move on immigration reform is that it's all the Democrats' fault. York quotes an unnamed Republican lawmaker saying, "Everyone has seen the bad faith exhibited by Obama and Reid during this fiscal fight and I can't imagine anyone making the case that a final [immigration] product would reflect conservative principles in any fashion." That's similar, of course, to Labrador's contention that Republicans should abandon immigration because Obama is trying to destroy the Republican Party.
The irony is that if you talk to White House officials, their belief has long been that immigration reform might be possible precisely because it would help the Republican Party politically and because the Senate was able to craft a bill that conservatives like Marco Rubio found ideologically congenial. They've even tried to keep Obama distant from the process so the Senate Republicans who participated would get much of the credit. If the price of immigration reform is a more competitive Republican Party in 2016, it's a price the White House is happy to pay.
But that's the irony of the GOP right now: They're so scared that Obama is trying to destroy them that they're destroying themselves.