Heritage Action for America – the lobbying arm of the respected Heritage Foundation – sent a memo today to congressional Republicans opposing immediate passage of the border security bill taking shape in the House and the Senate. The group argues that the bill “distracts” from the larger fight against President Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration.
While Heritage Action is correct to recommend that policymakers challenge Obama’s executive actions on immigration, the group is wrong to conclude that moving GOP immigration legislation muddies the fight. Instead, passing the border security bills and subsequent legal immigration reforms would strengthen the GOP’s negotiating position in a showdown with the president.
Conservatives do have reason to be concerned that the GOP leadership will abandon the fight and attempt to use the border bill to replace a genuine fight with the president. But they already know that this ploy would fool no one in the House. Conservatives and their constituents will not accept a substitute for the real battle, so it is difficult to understand the view that the bill will endanger the broader fight.
In fact, the border security bill would strengthen conservatives’ hand. In a fight with the president, especially if Homeland Security funding was to be cutoff temporarily, it is important that Republicans keep public opinion on their side (as the earlier government shutdown demonstrated). But opposing any immigration bill regardless of its content would play into the president’s narrative that Republicans want no reform whatsoever, which is a flawed strategy in a public relations war.
Conservatives have the opportunity, however, to flip the narrative and increase the pressure on the White House. If the House and Senate pass a border security bill and legal immigration reforms, even liberal media outlets that recite the president’s talking points would have a difficult time explaining away the disconnect between the administration talking points and reality.
The only way to win a funding battle is to have the public outcry directed at the person most responsible for this situation: President Obama. If Republicans pass immigration bills, independents who oppose the process of president’s actions but still favor immigration reform could begin to ask, why is the president shutting down Homeland Security when Republicans are passing step-by-step reforms?
This strategy would be especially potent because the president is already on the record promising to take back his unauthorized actions if Congress sends him a bill. If he opposes each of the pieces that Congress sends him, it begins to look more and more like it is the president who is again violating his promises and obstructing.
While Heritage Action is right to point out that several Senate Democrats have expressed concern or opposition to the president’s immigration moves, those same Democrats have already stated that they will not vote with Republicans to repeal the immigration actions absent other reforms. Passing those reforms, including border security, would be easier and place a unified Congress in direct confrontation with an out-of-control executive, exactly the narrative conservatives want.
Immigration reform and the fight against executive overreach is not an either-or situation. The Senate should attempt to pass a bill to repeal the president’s actions, but that job only becomes easier if it has already sent the president a series of immigration bills. The GOP has no reason to back down from immigration reform.