The Republican Party has a gang problem. Over and over again, small groups of GOP Senators have broken with the rest of their caucus to negotiate side deals with like-minded Democrats. While well-intentioned, these “gang” compromises have tended to undermine the prospects for broader agreement, rather than promoting them, because Democrats simply pocket the gangs’ concessions and use them to press for more.
A case in point is the Gang of Six, which emerged during the debt ceiling negotiations of 2011. As Bob Woodward points out in The Price of Politics, the Gang of Six intended to make a deal more likely. But when President Barack Obama saw that three Republican Senators were ready to offer higher revenues than House Speaker John Boehner, he raised his own demands. That contributed to the eventual failure of the “grand bargain.”
The most famous of the gangs was the Gang of 14, which formed in order to blunt a Republican threat to end the filibuster in 2005 after it had been abused by Democrats to block President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. The Gang of 14 preserved the filibuster–a worthy goal–but also served to undermine Republicans’ leverage against a minority party determined to halt progress on every other issue for narrow partisan gain.
The latest iteration is the Gang of Eight, which is theoretically designed to break an impasse on immigration reform. It announced a deal this week in which Democrats agreed to put border security first in exchange for Republican commitment to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
In response, according to reports, the White House embraced the path to citizenship–and rejected the deal’s link to law enforcement.
That gesture, in turn, will make it more difficult for Republicans to support immigration reform, and could mean that no new legislation on the issue will pass this Congress.
Obama may believe–as on fiscal issues–that he does not need to compromise after winning re-election. He may also believe Republicans will eventually surrender rather than risk permanently losing Hispanic voters. Or he may hope to use the impasse to help his party take back the House of Representatives from Republicans in 2014.
The tragedy is that there is broad Republican support for legal immigration, and even the Tea Party–as personified by “Gang of Eight” members Marco Rubio (FL) and Jeff Flake (AZ)–wants to resolve the illegal immigration issue. They have committed themselves to the cause.
But Obama may have left them high and dry–and not for the first time.
Obama is a repeat offender on the immigration issue. He helped defeat previous reform efforts from 2005 through 2007, and refused to introduce new legislation in his first term.
He has used the same tactics on a variety of other issues, rejecting compromise in favor of brinkmanship, knowing that in doing so he will either win more concessions from the GOP or bring down mainstream media opprobrium on his political opponents–or both.
The public wants legislators to get together and solve problems, but Obama punishes them for doing so. Republicans–and even a few journalists–are starting to understand Obama’s game.
That is why Speaker Boehner promised his caucus that he would not indulge futher special negotiations with the president, and would return to “regular order.”
Senate Republicans were not bound by that promise. Perhaps they should be.