GOP business community's naive fantasy: Do they even understand politics?

Chamber of Commerce spends hundreds of millions to elect Republicans -- who completely ignore them on immigration

Published May 13, 2014 4:55PM (EDT)

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue.   (Shizuo Kambayashi)
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue. (Shizuo Kambayashi)

A "joke," or an "ultimatum"? Politico describes Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue's comments on immigration reform as both:

“If the Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016,” Donohue joked at an event on infrastructure investment in D.C. “Think about that. Think about who the voters are. I just did that to get everybody’s attention.”

Well, it's probably much closer to a "joke" than an "ultimatum," since Tom Donohue has no actual power over the GOP's decision to field a presidential candidate, and our deep insider Beltway sources suggest that Republicans will probably field a presidential candidate in 2016. Perhaps the best way to describe Donohue's comments are as a "thing he did to get everybody's attention," since that's exactly how he described them. And wouldn't you just know it, his plan worked! This is one slick operator.

Then again... is he really such a slick operator? Because the Chamber has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into getting Republicans elected, and what does the esteemed business lobby get for it? For the first few years after the Chamber-underwritten 2010 House Republican takeover, headaches, mainly, over consistent attempts by these new members to block either funding of the government or increases in Treasury's borrowing authority. And now its top "big legislation" priority, comprehensive immigration reform, is being stymied by Republicans who fear primaries.

But the Chamber must be funneling its money and endorsements this cycle to candidates who support comprehensive immigration reform -- as in, something that would include a pathway towards legal status for those undocumented immigrants already here -- correct? Ehh, not really. As Ed Kilgore points out, the Chamber has endorsed the reelection bid of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who voted against the Senate "Gang of Eight" bill last year, and Rep. Jack Kingston for Georgia's open seat. Kingston's website declares that "there should be no amnesty for any individual who has crossed the border illegally." The Chamber also backs the reelection of Sen. Thad Cochran, whose campaign touts that "he’s voted against amnesty in every chance he’s gotten too." North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis, another Chamber endorsee, also railed against amnesty! in his primary battle. The Chamber probably believes and hopes that these are just things their candidates have to say to get elected and don't actually care. We'd rate that "half-true." But such rhetoric won't make it easier for any of them to support a deal that includes some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants, which President Obama has repeatedly checked as a requirement.

It is amusing, too, to watch the disdain that the Chamber and other giants of the "business community" have for the people who vote in the Republicans they wish to have seated. Consider this comment from the same event:

National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said he also thought immigration reform could pass this year, perhaps in a lame-duck session.

“This is a unified position of the business community,” Timmons said.

The House GOP leadership's problem on immigration reform is that it thinks it needs to be addressed ahead of the 2016 election but can't settle on an optimal time to do so, because any time, really, would infuriate large segments of what we call the "GOP base." What's the least inflammatory window?

Allahpundit at Hot Air lays out the three possibilities: either this summer, the lame duck, or early 2015. This summer doesn't seem to be in the cards, since there already aren't that many legislative days left on the calendar "this summer," and passing immigration reform would more likely hurt than help the party going into the midterms. (Which is why it hasn't already been done.) The lame duck option, a.k.a. the "unified position of the business community," would cost Boehner his speakership and piss off the base like none other -- and fairly enough, because that would be ice cold!

Early 2015 is the only option that makes sense. If Republicans win the Senate, then the House and Senate GOP can craft an "immigration bill" on their own terms -- something involving a lot of moats filled with alligators, and little else -- and then blame Obama for rejecting their "immigration bill." Or they could pass one that Obama would sign and tell the base that it needed to be done to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and that would probably float, relative to other options.

Or the House could continue doing nothing on immigration reform, because that's sort of how they roll.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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