On Friday, as the House GOP was scrambling to salvage the border crisis legislation that they’d failed to pass on Thursday, Rep. Steve King emerged from the backroom deliberations with a spring in his step. King was one of the conservatives in the House who’d succeeded in blowing up the leadership’s border bill because it didn’t block funding for President Obama’s program to defer deportations for immigrants brought to the country as kids – Dreamers, as they’ve come to be known. That program has no demonstrated link to the surge of Central American children coming across the southern border, but King and his compatriots wanted it dead so they can deport as many people as possible. The border bill’s failure the previous evening meant they were in a position to extract some concessions.
And according to King, they were more than successful in forcing the leadership to give them exactly what they wanted. “The changes brought into this are ones I’ve developed and advocated for over the past two years,” King told Roll Call on Friday. “It’s like I ordered it off the menu.”
Let’s take some time to consider that statement, both as it pertains to the border legislation itself, but also where it fits in the longer arc of the Republican position on immigration issues. For the Republicans’ border bill, it meant that the existing language expediting deportations for kids coming from Central America was made tougher, and a separate bill was introduced to curtail Obama’s deferred action program and make it impossible for more than 500,000 immigrants who’ve already enrolled in the program to renew their status. The Steve King position is to deport as many people as possible, regardless of the circumstances. And he advocates this position because he is, in fact, a crazy person.
That might sound harsh or perhaps over-the-top, but I’m not really sure where else you can land on this one. King explained his thinking with regard to the border crisis in June to WorldNetDaily – which, you might remember, is the online home of birther conspiracies. According to King, Obama is intentionally causing the crisis in order to destroy the concept of national sovereignty:
“I do feel this attempt to flood the border with illegals is a playing out of the Cloward-Piven theory,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
“If you don’t see them bring reinforcements down there to seal the border, that means that, yes, it’s a Cloward-Piven maneuver to flood the country until we get to the point where we are an open-borders country that welcomes everybody, legal and illegal,” he told WND.
Yep. That’s crazy. And the Republican leadership, unable to sell an already very conservative bill to its restive Tea Party faction, said to Steve King, “OK, crazy man, you win. We’ll do it your way.”
The legislative impact of the Republicans' cave to King and the rest of the anti-immigrant extremists was ultimately nil – both the border bill and the anti-deferred action legislation passed, and the Senate would have rejected them if it was in town to do so, which it was not. By the Republican leadership’s own admission, the whole exercise was about sending a message. They wanted to pass a bill (any bill, however terrible, it didn’t matter) to show the country that they are capable of fulfilling the most basic of their obligations as legislators. “We’re going to keep working until we get our job done,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told reporters on Friday. “The Senate’s going to leave without doing their work. The president refuses to do his work. But the House is going to stay, do our work and show that we can lead and solve the problem.”
But that’s not really the message they sent. Honestly, the Republicans would have been better off just leaving the Capitol after the bill failed the first time and just spending the August recess looking like the feckless buffoons everyone already considers them to be. Instead, they stuck around and prostrated themselves to the nativist wing of the party in pursuit of an empty legislative victory.
Remember, Steve King was the guy who opposed the Dream Act because he believes young undocumented immigrants are all drug mules with enormous calf muscles. Now the Republicans have signed on to his legislative proposals to kill Obama’s executive-action version of the Dream Act. Going back to 2012, you can trace the party’s arc on immigration issues, and it’s not a pretty sight.
October 2012: Self-deportation
November 2012: Oh crap, uh, we have to pass immigration reform
January 2013: We came up with some ideas for immigration reform
June 2013: We passed immigration reform
November 2013: We’re still probably going to pass immigration reform
February 2014: Yeah, about immigration reform, see the thing is …
June 2014: Immigration reform? That’s not happening
August 2014: Deport everyone
Now what’s going to happen is that the House Republicans are going to head back to their districts and spend August boasting about how they passed a bill to deal with the border crisis. And all they had to do was backslide from the immigration position they knew was politically toxic after 2012 and arrive at a position that’s inarguably worse.