With the immigration issue raging on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a little-noticed move that could help Republicans stop Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) from jamming the GOP on immigration with the politics of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Friday, McConnell introduced a stand-alone spending bill to send money for Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system, something Senate Democrats had sought to include in the larger border crisis package moving its way through the chamber.
“Republicans are united in support of our ally Israel,” McConnell said in a floor speech introducing the bill. “We have legislation that would allow Congress to meet the Secretary’s request. And we hope our friends on the other side will join us in coming to a sensible, bipartisan solution that can be passed quickly. As most senators know, the Iron Dome missile defense system has played a critical role in defending Israel’s population from the rocket attacks launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip.”
A couple weeks ago, President Barack Obama submitted a request to Congress asking for $3.7 billion in additional funding for the border crisis via a supplemental appropriations bill. He was met with almost immediate resistance from House and Senate Republicans, who criticized him for wanting to throw money at the problem.
Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) created a working group, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), to develop their own plan to deal with the border crisis, and Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), McConnell’s deputy, got to work on his own bill with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) that would alter a 2008 anti-human trafficking law the White House has blamed for being a source of the problem of why the thousands of illegal alien children can’t be deported back home.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate showed Obama’s emergency spending bill for the border crisis would spend just $25 million of the $3.7 billion in new funds this year, prompting fierce criticism that the spending was not being targeted to solve the problem quickly.
In response, Senate Democratic leadership–and Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)–tweaked the president’s plan, decreasing the total funding level by about $100 million and directing $615 million would go to wildfire fighting and $225 million to Israel’s Iron Dome.
According to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the White House was behind the move to include Israel Iron Dome funding in the supplemental appropriations bill.
“Israel requested it, the White House asked us to include it,” Durbin said, according to Politico. “It reflects the fact that all the rocket activity coming out of Gaza has exhausted their current supply or at least it is threatening their supply for defense.”
If Republicans were to oppose the full supplemental appropriations package with Israel support included, without an alternative standalone like McConnell’s new bill, Democrats could hammer the GOP as not supporting Israel in a time of need as the crisis there increases as fast as the one on the U.S. border with Mexico does. Instead, McConnell’s bill could offer Republicans a way to oppose the president’s and Senate Democrats’ plan without getting painted into a box.
Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill were impressed with McConnell’s strategic savvy in introducing the bill. For a long time, GOP leaders have resisted picking a fight with Obama on the matter for fear it was not in their political interests. While this isn’t a major public move against Obama and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), key players on the right hope it foreshadows a more aggressive role by the Kentucky Republican on the issue.
McConnell has thus far declined to say whether he backs an effort by Sens. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that would block funding for the administration’s attempts to implement more executive amnesty in the form of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or programs like it.
Cruz and Blackburn have introduced legislation in the Senate and House respectively that would block President Obama’s administration from expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that administratively granted amnesty to upwards of 800,000 illegal aliens who say they arrived in America as minors. Their bill would bar funding of the documents the administration needs to produce to carry out such an order.
Their argument is that the current border crisis–in which about 60,000 illegal alien minors are being sheltered in U.S. facilities around the country–is a direct result of the promise of amnesty the illegal aliens expect they will get if they get inside America’s borders successfully.
“If you look at the history of this issue–in 2011, there were roughly 6,000 children apprehended coming in illegally,” Cruz said on Fox News Sunday this past weekend. “Then in 2012, President Obama unilaterally granted amnesty to some 800,000 people who were here illegally who entered as children. The direct foreseeable consequence of that was the number of unaccompanied children skyrocketed so that this year, the Obama administration is estimating that 90,000 kids will come, next year 145,000. That’s up from 6,000 just three years ago.”
Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, has called on every member of Congress to back the Cruz-Blackburn bill or remain “complicit” in President Obama’s “nullification of our laws and basically the nullification of border enforcement.”
Boehner’s working group has not touched Obama’s executive amnesty actions or the Cruz-Blackburn plan in its recommendations it released earlier this week. At a wide-ranging closed-door meeting Friday, rank-and-file members repeatedly discussed how to confront Obama with their approach, and one lawmaker, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), even put impeachment on the table, albeit to “hissing” from the crowd, according to a lawmaker present.
While McConnell and Boehner’s working group’s official recommendations remain silent on that matter, the GOP unity against Obama’s and the Democrats’ border crisis spending bill–and their efforts to tie it to Israel’s Iron Dome funding–could bring the band back together heading into the final months of the midterm elections.
For his part, Sessions, the only sitting senator to avoid either a primary or a general election challenger, has consistently argued fighting Obama on immigration policy is a political winner for Republicans if they step up to the plate to do so. In a memo Sessions distributed to Republicans a year ago, in late July 2013, he called on the GOP to “flip the immigration debate on its head” by fighting not for illegal aliens and special interests but the needs of the American people.
“In changing the terms of the immigration debate we will not only prevent the implementation of a disastrous policy, but begin a larger effort to broaden our appeal to working Americans of all backgrounds,” Sessions wrote to his fellow Republicans then. “Now is the time to speak directly to the real and legitimate concerns of millions of hurting Americans whose wages have declined and whose job prospects have grown only bleaker. This humble and honest populism–in contrast to the Administration’s cheap demagoguery–would open the ears of millions who have turned away from our party.”