Republicans at the Crossroads 

Immigration reform issues continue to dog the GOP.

click to enlarge boehner_2417210b.jpg

When it comes to the Republican Party's immigration divide, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. 

The 2016 campaign has begun, and Jeb Bush, a pro-immigration-reform candidate, is believed to have raised the most money. Yet Republicans in Congress are under pressure to roll back the president's executive action that conservatives consider amnesty. Republicans don't have the votes to do it. The issue promises to dog the GOP from now at least until Election Day.

A few weeks back, House Republicans passed a bill that would defund parts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to block President Obama's executive order shielding up to 5 million people from deportation. The bill would restore funds that expire in February to the rest of the department. Though the bill can't pass the Senate, with all Senate Democrats united against it, GOP leaders there promise to bring it up anyway. 

And "Plan B," they say, doesn't yet exist. Failure to pass a bill before February 27th will allow Democrats and the president to claim Republicans risked funding vital national security functions in a time of rising terror threats, concerns that register high in polls of voter priorities. 

Some Republicans argue a lapse in DHS funding would make little difference, because most of the department's employees are considered essential and would remain on the job with their pay delayed. But creating an avoidable cliff, especially for GOP leaders who have promised an end to them, is foolish in light of the unavoidable cliffs that are up next on the calendar.

Conservatives are likely to fight their leaders and push for more confrontation over the debt ceiling in March, the Medicare "doc fix" in April, and the Highway Trust Fund in May — all must-pass bills that conservatives will view as opportunities to gain leverage over Obama.

Meanwhile, to soothe conservatives, the House prepped a border security bill that would effectively eliminate hope for comprehensive reform, requiring the DHS to secure the border completely — blocking 100 percent of entries — in five years. But conservatives dismissed it for failing to include interior enforcement measures for immigrants already here illegally. The bill was pulled.

The latest concession was Speaker John Boehner's recent announcement that the House would sue the president over his executive action. It's hard to see that token move assuaging angry conservatives.

Some momentary reflection and reconsideration of immigration followed GOP nominee Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012 — a devastating 71 percent to 21 percent wipeout among Latino voters — but faded rapidly, and two years later, the party is more divided than it was then. The "autopsy" by the Republican National Committee suggested passing reform and stated, "It doesn't matter what we say about education, jobs, or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies." The warning went nowhere.

But immigration reform remains a goal for those who influence and fund presidential campaigns. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Wall Street Journal and Fox News Channel, recently gushed at remarks by Bush on the benefits of immigration reform. Murdoch, and influential casino magnate and GOP funder Sheldon Adelson, both took the remarkable step of urging the party to pass reform in high-profile op-eds published within one day of each other, after freshman Rep. Dave Brat (R-Virginia) used the immigration issue to topple former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June primary election.

Republicans won't be passing any immigration reform, but it will remain the subject of contentious debate for the next two years, from the halls of Congress to the campaign trail — much to the delight of Democrats.

A.B. Stoddard writes for The Hill, where a version of this column first appeared.

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