Ted Cruz's war on John Boehner: The speaker loses control to the Tea Party

John Boehner desperately wants to pass a border bill today, but Ted Cruz, as always, is getting in the way

Published July 31, 2014 11:43AM (EDT)

John Boehner, Ted Cruz                                                                             (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
John Boehner, Ted Cruz (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

How "lucky" we are to have a painstakingly cynical but nevertheless exciting vote in the House, on a much-watched piece of legislation, just before legislators literally go on a five-week vacation. And it's on an issue -- the border -- where the stakes are quite high for the House Republicans. The obvious thing to do would be to pass it and "turn the narrative" into a five-week victory tour, especially since the Senate doesn't appear likely to pass its own bill. The House GOP can successfully trick the short-memoried media into believing that they "are ready to govern," or "can govern," or are at least a vaguely adult-ish assembly of human beings.

Indeed, it's so blindingly clear for House Republicans that House Republicans should pass this bill that they may have to blow it all up.

Speaker John Boehner and his new leadership team want this one, bad. They've been trimming the legislative package to a leaner, meaner -- as in more heartless -- product all week, with the final version coming in at a modest $659 million. It mostly focuses on speeding up deportations and border security and making it easier to kick away Central American kids who show up at the border fleeing violence. (This all appeals to some people, at least.) And with Senate Republicans and vulnerable Democrats likely set to filibuster whatever package comes out of amendment on their supplemental, Boehner and the House GOP conference skip into the recess with legislative-ability bragging rights and jam the Senate.

Unfortunately for the leadership, the latest Cruzification of the House debate is proceeding on schedule. Sen. Ted Cruz, and his conspiratorial anti-immigration crazy people allies in the House like Reps. Steve King and Louie Gohmert, have been urging House conservatives to reject the supplemental. They argue that it leaves Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- or what they call the "president's amnesty program" -- untouched. They also believe that passing such a supplemental with certain immigration policy changes would expose the chamber to a conference committee with the Senate's dreaded Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform bill. Harry Reid suggested the Senate may do just that with some rather devious remarks yesterday. Such a move would be almost impossible to pull off. Reid surely knows that and is just trying to kill House Republican support for its own bill, because gullible conspiratorial people will believe anything.

And it may work. The Washington Post's Robert Costa reported yesterday that Cruz was "whipping hard against [the] Boehner bill" and convening a Thursday evening strategy session with King, Gohmert and "more than a dozen" other All-Stars.

Cruz’s huddle is the latest example of the combative freshman senator wading into House affairs and serving as an informal whip against the leadership’s immigration position. It is also a direct shot at Boehner’s effort to pass his legislative package, hours before the bill is scheduled to come to the House floor on Thursday.

On Friday, the House adjourns for a five-week recess, leaving Boehner little time to cobble together the votes necessary to pass his proposal. “I think there is sufficient support in the House,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said after a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Tuesday. But he added, “We have a little more work to do.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) will be at Cruz’s closed-press session, as will more than a dozen other House Republicans. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a member of the House GOP’s working group on the border, is also planning to attend.

An aide to Boehner declined Wednesday to comment on Cruz’s activities.

Go ahead, reader, and imagine your own comment from a Boehner aide -- any four-letter word should suffice.

So once again we're coming down to the same old test: Who's in charge of the House? Is it Boehner and the leadership, or Cruz and a faction of (more) crazy people? If it's Boehner, the House will pass the supplemental today. If it's Cruz and co., the House will either vote down the legislation, or Boehner will be forced to offer more conservative measures that he's kept his distance from -- like defunding DACA -- in order to reach his number. Boehner is desperate to get something through, and since the White House has already issued a veto threat over the House bill, he may well go YOLO and offer up DACA.

(Still can't believe they get a five-week vacation after this mess.)

Update: Indeed, the leadership now will be offering a DACA vote -- conditional on passage of the supplemental. Will that be good enough?

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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