Yesterday, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) attended a private meeting with President Barack Obama on the subject of immigration reform. They emerged all smiles: “It’s one of the best meetings I’ve ever had with the president,” Graham said. President Obama “understands the parameters of what we’re dealing with,” said McCain. Both senators are supporters of immigration reform efforts now under way in the Senate.
Those efforts themselves are the product of separate negotiations outside “regular order” in the Senate. A group called the “Gang of Eight,” which includes both McCain and Graham, has agreed to the broad principles of a bipartisan compromise on immigration that would include both border enforcement and a “path to citizenship”–though the question of whether, and for how long, the enforcement stage would come first remains unresolved.
It is not the first time a “gang” effort has been used to pressure the rest of the Republican caucus, but it is the first time such an effort has been coordinated with the president. McCain and Graham’s endorsement of the president’s efforts is particularly striking given their persistent push for answers on the Benghazi scandal, and their strong opposition to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (though they both refused to sustain a filibuster).
The Republicans’ “gang problem” has contributed to the growing frustration that conservative voters feel with the GOP. In McCain’s case, the frustration is compounded by the fact that he ran for re-election in 2010 while promising to crack down on illegal immigration. In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner agreed to stop separate talks with Obama, and to commit to “regular order.” The Senate has added no such discipline.
Even in the House, Boehner has abandoned a promise to observe the “Hastert rule”–to ensure that any vote that comes to the floor is approved by the majority Republican caucus first. The result has been a string of capitulations that lead in turn to bad policy. The noble cause of bipartisanship first requires two parties. If Republicans cannot establish minimal policy discipline–even personal discipline–the country’s frustrations will grow.