Home | Opinion | Juan Williams

Williams: House GOP walking into a trap

Greg Nash

What happens to the House Republican caucus if Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) forces a vote on immigration reform?

Here are three predictions:

1. The bill passes. An overwhelming majority of Republicans vote for it. With Republican primaries finished by June, incumbents will be free from any far-right, anti-immigration threat to their seats. The GOP vote will be so large it will isolate right-wing talk radio hosts and the Tea Party opposition.

2. Boehner strengthens his position as the party’s leader in the House. He gains added financial backing from a business community that wants immigration reform. And he rises as a party elder among establishment Republicans, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who recently said people who take the risk of coming to America illegally are engaged in “an act of love.”

3. A victory will create a legacy for Boehner’s time as Speaker. He would then be free to resign on a high note.

Forcing a vote is the Speaker’s only way out of the suffocating political box that recently led him to an emotional outburst against the Tea Party obstructionists who refuse to act on immigration reform.

Speaking in his home district in Ohio over the spring recess, Boehner made news when he mocked the far right of his caucus.

The Speaker put his whole body into it, theatrically grimacing and whining as he told a Rotary Club that some members of his caucus have an infantile attitude on immigration reform and complain: “Oh, don’t make me do this. Oh, this is too hard!”

Boehner later downplayed his public display of contempt. He told reporters the only problem is that he “can rib people just a little too much.” And he predictably tried to distract attention from the GOP infighting over immigration by attacking the party’s favorite whipping boy, President Obama.

“The biggest impediment we have in moving immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass,” the Speaker told reporters.

In fact, the Speaker’s outburst is evidence of a strong political instinct sensing approaching disaster for his party.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress have been steadily pulling House Republicans into a trap.

In the last two weeks, the Department of Homeland Security announced it is looking at reducing deportation of illegal immigrants by no longer forcing out immigrants who have no significant criminal record. This is an extension of the president’s earlier support for allowing young people who entered the country illegally but have grown up in the United States and are in school or the military to avoid deportation.

That approach picked up on a 2011 memo by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that proposed exempting from deportation elderly people, pregnant women, and people in need of medical care for an illness.

Senate Republicans are a step ahead of Boehner in looking down the political road. They see that the House’s lack of action could open the door for Obama to take unilateral action on immigration reform.

The political result would be to make heroes of the president and his congressional allies while leaving Republicans to explain why the Tea Party element in the House refused to deal with the immigration crisis. Such an outcome would cement political loyalty between the growing Latino vote and Democrats. It would also stir the Democrats’ liberal base for the 2014 midterms.

Trying to prevent that political calamity for the party, a group of 22 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Obama on April 24. They tried to change the narrative by charging the president with “near complete abandonment of basic immigration enforcement,” and even allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. and commit “preventable crimes harming innocent people.”

But the reason the Senate passed an immigration bill last June with support from a group of Republicans is that it included close to $30 billion of increased spending on border security and enforcement of immigration law. That excessive spending, at a time when the southern U.S. border already has a record number of patrol agents, fences, walls, electronic alert systems and drones, gave Republicans the political cover they needed to respond to concern about lax enforcement. In addition, illegal crossings at the southern border are at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, Obama has been able to report that he has enforced the law by deporting more illegal immigrants than any of his predecessors. That has demonstrated the president’s seriousness about abiding by the law to independent voters. It has also cost him with an important constituency. Activists in the Hispanic community have held hunger strikes in front of the Capitol and the White House to protest the record number of deportations.

The pressure is on the president to make himself a hero. Day by day, GOP obstruction is giving him more reason to act. At the moment, House Republicans are giving Obama a political excuse for pushing them out of the way as he throws the entire GOP out into political oblivion. The Speaker can see his party’s political doom coming if he does not force a vote.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.