Republicans face an uphill climb in 2018 if they fail on immigration and ObamaCare

Republicans face an uphill climb in 2018 if they fail on immigration and ObamaCare
© Greg Nash

Last year may feel like it was decades ago, but it was just then that Republican majorities swept the House and Senate.

They did so on promises of real legislative change in Washington. For eight years, Republicans in Congress promised to repeal ObamaCare. Many more then-candidates, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAEI names Robert Doar new president Trump to meet with top North Korean official to discuss 'fully verified' denuclearization NASA preps for 'Armageddon' style asteroid threat — but with far less drama MORE included, protested and promised to undo the executive amnesty President Obama implemented with his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  

In 2018, both of these promises will be put to the test. 


Thus far, Republicans have only managed to repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate. The rest of the law remains in place, where it still fails to achieve its stated mission of making health care affordable and accessible.


Premiums in every category are rising as much as 30 percent. Services to the disabled and the elderly have been cut or delayed as the able-bodied population piles onto Medicaid. Across the country, insurance companies are dropping out of the exchanges, leaving some counties without any coverage options.

For Republicans in Congress, the ObamaCare strategy is shaping up to be a binary choice: repeal the law, as they promised, or vote to fix it, and likely cement it in place.

That’s the choice being presented to the Senate by shadow-Majority Leader Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO MORE (R-Maine). As one of the most liberal members of her party, Collins has been calling the shots all year. She looks to be doing so again, as actual Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees McConnell blocks bill to reopen most of government Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE (R-Ky.) has promised her a vote on legislation that will bail out insurance companies to the tune of $4 to $5 billion.

If McConnell bows to Collins and brings this bill to the floor, it is likely to pass with the votes of Democrats and the six Republicans who have already flip-flopped on the ObamaCare issue. Passage of this bill will not only place ObamaCare’s policy failings squarely into the lap of the GOP, it will seal its fate as permanent policy.

After all, McConnell has already said he has no more interest in repealing the law. He wants to “move on” to other things.

According to reports, those “other things” mean finding a legislative solution to DACA.

President Trump famously railed against the law on the campaign trail, and then gave Congress until March of 2018 to find a legislative solution. Democrats are demanding amnesty for DACA recipients, while Republicans are open to extending the program in exchange for tougher enforcement mechanisms, including an end to chain migration. The White House, meanwhile, has put out a detailed list of proposals that must be included in any DACA agreement. 

However, reports that Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSchumer recruiting top-notch candidate for McCain Senate seat The Hill's Morning Report — Trump eyes wall money options as shutdown hits 21 days Poll: Sanders most popular senator, Flake least MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) are working with Democrats on a solution indicates that an amnesty may very well be part of whatever deal that emerges.

A path to citizenship, considered amnesty by many conservatives, would represent a huge blow to Trump’s base, and to GOP voters writ large. Indeed, even among a bipartisan group of registered voters polled in November, only 10 percent listed DACA as an issue that should be a “top priority” for Congress (notably, more than double that number said health care reform should be at the top).

Leaders of both parties agree that the DACA issue must be addressed. However, for years, Republicans have run on the rule of law, even incorporating the principle into their 2016 party platform. For an amnesty solution to even be on the table represents a betrayal of those promises — as well as a repudiation of the president’s priorities.

With the 2018 midterms upon them, Republicans are already facing an uphill climb. Historically, the president’s party loses an average of 32 House seats and more than two Senate seats, simply due to political headwinds. Overcoming that will be made all the more difficult if the GOP’s first legislative actions of 2018 are to cement ObamaCare as the law of the land, and hand out amnesty to illegal immigrants without the reforms articulated by the president.

As I noted recently on MSNBC, the country’s most active voters prize authenticity. In politics, this is as simple as making a promise and keeping it. 

As Republicans prepare to grapple with two of their most longstanding promises — ObamaCare and the rule of law — they would do well to keep that in mind.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.