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Who’s in Charge of the GOP When it Comes to Immigration Policy? Our Take: Steve King and Jeff Sessions Have More Say Than John Boehner and Mitch McConnell

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With the clock running out on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding, and pundits looking to see if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can work themselves out of the corner they painted themselves into, our take is that they are not really the members of Congress driving the GOP strategy.  The fact is that while McConnell and Boehner can determine which votes come up and when, the GOP’s immigration policy and political agenda is more firmly under the control of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (R-AL) in the Senate and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in the House.  

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Evidently, Steve King and Jeff Sessions are so determined to undercut President Obama’s common-sense immigration policy changes that they are prepared to risk everything—even national security—to accomplish their goal.  For too long, McConnell and Boehner have coddled and enabled King, Sessions and their followers.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost.

As Greg Sargent frames the dilemma for McConnell and Boehner in today’s Washington Post:  

 All of this highlights the broader problem here, which is that GOP leaders kept alive the idea for far too long that the DHS funding fight could be used as leverage against Obama’s executive actions.  As long as that idea is kept alive, then conservatives are right to call any splitting of the two ‘surrender.’ Either Republican leaders are prepared to go all the way in using DHS funding as leverage to force Obama to relinquish his deportation relief, or they aren’t.

Republican leaders face the prospect of angering the King-Sessions crowd and doing the right thing for the country, or following the restrictionists’ strategy and putting our entire nation at risk.  Latest polling from CBS finds that 60% of Americans “think any agreement to fund Homeland Security should be kept separate from immigration policy.”  The numbers are consistent across the political spectrum, with 63% of Republicans, 60% of Democrats, and 59% agreeing.  CNN/ORC polling from the same time period revealed that most Americans believe shutting down DHS is a really bad idea.  Two-thirds of Americans say that shutting down the Department of Homeland Security for a few weeks would be either a “major problem” or a “crisis.”  If that happens, 53% say Republicans will be responsible for the shutdown, with 30% blaming President Obama.

Press reports indicate that McConnell may be trying to set up an exit strategy that involves some combination of a short-term continuing resolution and a separate vote on provisions that block deferred action for some DREAMers and the parents of U.S. citizens.  This is not an acceptable compromise—for either side—and the latter piece will never become law.  Again from Sargent

If Republicans do split the vote into two votes, the one blocking Obama’s actions would be filibustered by Democrats (or vetoed by Obama), and the one cleanly funding DHS would pass.  Thus, DHS funding would no longer be available as leverage over Obama’s actions, something conservatives don’t want to happen, given that the court battle’s resolution is uncertain.

Added Sharry:

King and Sessions know this all too well, and we predict they will pull out all the stops to make sure that it’s their way or the highway.  So, in the coming days it will become clear to all who runs the show on immigration policy in the House and the Senate.  If King and Sessions are in charge, as we assert, then there will be a DHS shutdown.  If McConnell and Boehner are leaders in more than name only, then there won’t be.  The clock is ticking.