Ted Cruz's brainiac response: Why his immigration reaction is so wrong

The immigration agency the right wants to defund pays its own way via fees, but that won't stop the shutdown caucus

Published November 21, 2014 5:32PM (EST)

  (Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
(Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

Here’s the good news, I guess. Even wingnuts are promising they’ve given up on impeaching President Obama over his executive action deferring deportation. No less a zealot than Rep. Steve King is saying, “I don't want to do the I-word, nobody wants to throw the nation into that kind of turmoil.” You’d think Obama’s move would be a big fat softball pitch to King – maybe a cantaloupe? – demanding he take a swing at impeachment, but so far, it’s not.

Still, King and others are insisting they can defund government, or at least the agencies tasked with implementing Obama’s move, and get away with it politically. That’s even after the House GOP Appropriations chairman, Rep. Hal Rodgers, reminded them that the agency in question, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is entirely self-funded, via the fees it charges, and thus could continue to process requests. “The appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency,” a committee statement said, according to Greg Sargent.

But conservatives continue to push the idea of passing riders to appropriations to defund certain agencies, or to fund only agencies they like, even though it’s clear the congressional GOP leadership wants no part of a government shutdown showdown this time around. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, sneering that “Obama is not a monarch” in Politico, says that if he vetoes a bill funding only certain parts of government, he will be blamed for the ensuing shutdown:

President Obama will no doubt threaten a shutdown—that seems to be the one card he repeatedly plays—but Congress can authorize funding for agencies of government one at a time. If the President is unwilling to accept funding for, say, the Department of Homeland Security without his being able to unilaterally defy the law, he alone will be responsible for the consequences.

Of course, that’s the exact argument Cruz and others, even Mitch McConnell, made about the politics of the October 2013 shutdown – and they were wrong that time. Polls showed the public blamed the GOP. They’ll be wrong again.

Still, some in the media, and even some liberals, see more risk here than I do. The reliable Greg Sargent thinks there’s a chance the politics of an immigration-related shutdown might be different from last year’s defund-Obamacare shutdown, and so does Danny Vinik, whom I admire. Beltway pundits, especially the Centrism Fetishists, are sure I’m wrong. “It's a risky political decision, one that downplays the fact that the White House is running against public opinion on the issue,” the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar wrote this week.

It’s true that 48 percent of Americans oppose Obama’s executive action, while 38 percent approved, according to recent polls. That’s almost identical to Gallup polling on Obamacare, just before the government shutdown in 2013, when 49 percent disapproved and 41 percent supported the law. (Interestingly, Gallup later found that the shutdown improved Obamacare’s support.) So it’s not clear why this time, a shutdown might hurt Democrats – except that’s a way to ignore the GOP’s culpability.

Centrism Fetishists have to insist there’s a brand-new shutdown story line here – those “Dems in disarray” stories write themselves, over and over -- but the rest of us don’t have to go along.

By Joan Walsh