What is the Republican strategy in starting a fight the party is sure to lose over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? Does the GOP even have one?
“Nobody really has a strategy yet, I’m sorry to say,” Sen. John McCainJohn McCainSenate committee to vote Monday on Tillerson Trump fails to mention Clinton in inaugural address Hillary Clinton under microscope at inauguration MORE (R-Ariz.) said last week.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) counters that there is indeed a strategy.
If the president vetoes a DHS funding bill in order to protect his executive actions on immigration, Labrador plans to shout across the land that Obama values five million illegal immigrants more than keeping the American people safe from terrorists.
The Puerto Rican-born Labrador is uniquely positioned in the debate. He once made his living as a lawyer helping immigrants — some here illegally — win legal status. He came to the mainland as a child. His single mother cleaned hotel rooms. No one can argue that he has a hard heart set against the immigrant experience.
But now he represents a 90 percent white, heavily Republican district. And his constituents, he says, want him to end ObamaCare and stop the president’s immigration plan.
So how is forcing one losing vote after another in the Senate going to pay off for the GOP?
“There’s a chance for us to make a point to the American people that there is a clear distinction between the two parties,” Labrador said in the interview. “I’ve never understood why you should only engage in a fight if you think you are going to win. Then we might as well just turn the Senate over to the Democrats…”
But what about polls showing Americans want immigration reform? That could hurt the Republican brand, especially with the growing number of Latino voters eligible to participate in the 2016 presidential election.
Labrador claims he does not look at polls.
“This is all about votes,” said Labrador. “This is the problem with the president. He wants Democratic voters. I want people who want to respect the laws of my country.”
Labrador notes that some Republicans keep telling him that “the last budget fight was so terrible” for the GOP. He jabs back by saying that voters rewarded the GOP with the largest House majority since the 1920s and control of the Senate.
As a model for his current fight, Labrador points to Senate Republicans who kept the pressure on President Clinton until he passed welfare reform in 1996. But getting support from centrist Democrats in the Senate was central to that strategy. That has not happened this time.
Still, Labrador believes the GOP can force President Obama to make a deal on immigration.
“There is a strategy for us to show that we are willing to do the right thing for the American people, we are willing to have a fair immigration system,” he said. “But we as Republicans are going to put the security of this nation first and ahead of the people that are here illegally.”
The bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is “flawed” to him because it does not require complete border security first.
He wants metrics in place to confirm a low level of people crossing the border illegally as well as a minimum of people overstaying their visas. Even with added money for security in the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate on top of recent record funding for border agents, drones and walls, he does not “trust” that the border is secure.
Labrador has made the fight against the president’s immigration order the first priority of the new House Freedom Caucus. Labrador is one of the founders of the largely ‘Tea Party” group.
At a late January Heritage Foundation event, Labrador scolded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “It’s uncanny to me that our leadership …is already sending the message that we’ve already lost this battle. Last year the message was ‘We can’t get our way because we don’t have a Senate majority.’ Now, this year’s message is ‘We can’t get out way because we have only 54 votes.’…That is not leadership.”
At Heritage, he also called out Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), his fellow Tea Party Republicans: “It is also high time that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and others decide that they are going to start fighting in the Senate, using the Senate procedural rules and not just looking at the House as the place where the fights are going to happen…
“The key is that our constituents will be okay if at the end of the day we go through the fight, the president vetoes it, we can’t override the veto, they will understand it… But if I say from the beginning, ‘We don’t have 60 votes so I’m not going to fight,’ they will not understand that and they will never forgive us for that.”
So for Labrador the strategy amounts to making a show of being willing to fight. The conservative grassroots love it — but will it achieve anything?
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.