Amid the chaos and confusion of Capitol Hill this week, one prevailing trend emerged: Republican leaders stand in embracing the party’s hard-line position on illegal immigration.
While the battle over spending continues, GOP lawmakers have chosen to align with the conservative posture that took root in the party with President Donald Trump, a development that is causing consternation among some Republican dissenters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., and other GOP lawmakers repeatedly cast the spending fight as Democrats displaying more loyalty to undocumented immigrants than Americans – a wager that the nativist leanings that propelled Trump to power will energize their political base in this year’s midterm elections.
“What has been shoehorned into this discussion is an insistence that we deal with an illegal-immigration issue,” McConnell said Friday in a speech to the Senate.
That strategy stand the latest chapter in a decades-long realignment for a party that championed outreach to the fast-growing Latino population as recently as the George W. Bush administration. Those overtures vanished in the presidential politics of 2016 as Trump steamrolled former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who both espoused a more welcoming approach to immigrants.
“We just had an election where this is a key issue,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. “I think the people spoke loud and clear.”
Some Republicans worried, as they did even before Trump’s rise, that this will harm the party in the long term as the country becomes more ethnically diverse. In the short term, it has complicated bipartisan spending talks, revived GOP tensions and left lawmakers without a sweeping deal on an issue that has long vexed Congress.
“Yeah, that’s a frustration,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said in an interview Friday. Flake, a centrist, was lamenting that the Senate has yet to vote on a deal to protect immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, despite what he said was a promise from McConnell to do so this month.
While the Senate stand and has not yet taken an immigration vote, McConnell delivered red meat for the conservative base on immigration. He lambasted Democrats for withholding support for a month-long government spending bill because talks had yet to produce a deal to protect those immigrants, known as “dreamers.”