Republicans had planned to focus on the tax cuts this week as we approach the six-month anniversary of the Trump administration's major legislative achievement, the passage of the tax bill in December. But celebrations of the cuts are being drowned out by the growing controversy over the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents on the southern border.
Republicans have been in a bind on immigration for years. The controversy over the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents at the border demonstrates that again — as will two votes on GOP immigration bills expected on Thursday. Both the conservative and moderate versions are expected to fail.
A new Morning Consult/Politico poll, conducted June 7-10, sheds some light on why immigration has been such a problem for Republicans. A majority of voters in both parties say they’d support a bill to protect so-called Dreamers from deportation, but it’s a low priority for Republican voters, according to the polling numbers released Monday.
Only 18 percent of GOP voters say that Congress should treat protection of Dreamers as a top priority, while 28 percent say Congress shouldn’t protect those young immigrants.
But if you look at the bottom of the Morning Consult chart below, you’ll see that Republican voters are much more unified in placing importance on a number of fiscal issues, from reducing the deficit (64 percent call it a priority) to reforming health care (57 percent) and addressing Medicare and Social Security (50 percent). Yes, immigration reform is third on the list (52 percent), but precisely what that means beyond heightened border security isn’t clear, whereas you can at least have some sense of the outlines of GOP policy in those other general policy areas.
When it comes to immigration, the “majority of the Republican Conference, just like the majority of Republican primary voters, has no urgency on moving on anything other than border security,” Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesman, told Morning Consult.
All of which highlights the curious political calculus at play in the Trump administration’s decision to turn up the volume on immigration ahead of the midterm elections — and risk a furious backlash over separating kids from their parents — instead of banging the drum on fiscal issues or the strength of the economy. As Politico’s Playbook crew wrote this morning, “The White House is making the conscious decision that divisive immigration policy -- not a booming economy -- should be the focus of the 2018 midterms. We can't tell you how dumb many Republican leaders think this is.”
The White House may think a hard line on immigration, and even separating migrant kids from their parents, plays well with Trump’s base and will help fuel conservative turnout in November. “They think they’re winning on the narrative,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said, according to Politico. “They think the politics are good for them.” A Quinnipiac poll found that 55 percent of Republicans back the family separation policy.
“Republicans typically handle immigration gingerly in an election year, as they try to appeal to Hispanic voters, independents and moderates across divergent districts,” The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman note. “But with more Americans still opposing the tax measure than supporting it, Mr. Trump’s allies believe that trying to link Democrats to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and gangs like MS-13 will do more to galvanize Republican voters and get them to the polls in November than emphasizing economic issues.”
That has left Republican lawmakers seeking reelection in November worried about a broader backlash — and scrambling to figure out how to tiptoe through Trump’s minefield. Politico’s Burgess Everett, John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade provided a succinct summation of the political peril Republican lawmakers face given the administration’s decision to turn immigration into the big issue consuming our national conversation: “Republicans want to talk about tax cuts. Instead, they’re talking about kids in cages.”