Salvo 01.31.2024 7 minutes

McConnell vs. America

Senators Continue Work On Capitol Hill And Meet For Weekly Policy Luncheons

To save American immigration policy, Trump must call for the Senate leader’s removal.

For the first time maybe in decades, the Right has the Left exactly where they want them on immigration. Americans, both urban and rural, blue and red, are in open revolt against Biden’s open-border policies. They are seeing the destruction in their communities caused by an out-of-control illegal invasion created entirely by this administration’s lawlessness. And they are demanding action.

The Democrats must make at least a temporary tactical retreat on their immigration radicalism, setting a new “left pole” of the debate that is well to the Right of where it is today. Or at least, that was the position the Left was in before the catastrophic self-inflicted wound brought on the Republican Party by the hubris of Mitch McConnell and his GOP establishment allies.

Perhaps this is a result of gross incompetence on McConnell’s part; perhaps he’s just actually out of step with GOP voters (addicted as he is to appeasing the cheap-labor lobbying of corporate donors). Or perhaps it was because McConnell felt it was the only way to get billions of dollars for Ukraine as part of a package deal, as Sen. Mike Rounds (a supporter of the bill who accused Russians of being behind the opposition) suggested. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Clearly, through either strategic idiocy or personal malice, McConnell and the Senate GOP leadership have taken a massive impending win on an important issue and turned it into a possible defeat, or at least a stalemate.

70 percent of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the border, a remarkable number in a hyper-polarized electorate. Given that Biden has refused to enforce our existing laws, there was never a need to negotiate with him on new ones. Or, as Trump’s immigration czar Stephen Miller succinctly put it, “A one sentence EO that swiftly ends Biden’s border invasion: ‘Reinstate all Trump policies, effective immediately.’”

Outside the Beltway, we are finally figuring out how to win on immigration. It began with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flooding sanctuary cities and states with the illegals that used to burden their states. This dramatically changed the local politics of illegal immigration in blue-state “sanctuary cities.” Abbott pressed the advantage by evicting federal border patrol agents from a park in Eagle Pass, because of their refusal to enforce the law (not through their own fault, but at the direction of Biden).

Buoyed by positive press and huge grassroots enthusiasm, Gov. Abbott is escalating his confrontation with the Biden Administration. After a dubious 5-4 Supreme Court decision to lift an injunction gave the federal government authority to take down razor wire put up by Texas at the border, every other GOP governor joined Abbott in support—of whom ten (at latest count) notably backed him, not just with words but with troops. In a joint statement the GOP governors said that they supported Abbott “utilizing every tool and strategy, including razor wire fences, to secure the border,” while making it clear that because Biden had “abdicated his Constitutional duties,” Texas’s actions were fully justified. Abbott says he is “prepared” for a conflict with the feds. That Abbott, a very mainstream Republican, is comfortable in getting that far out in front of the parade indicates the direction of its march. Even the federal government’s own agents are putting up resistance: the Border Patrol Union has made it clear they will not be following unlawful orders that might impede legal enforcement by states.

So given all of these positive trends, what motivated McConnell and his allies to attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Simply put, unlike GOP voters, McConnell and his pals are desperate to get billions more in aid to Ukraine. They had hoped to smuggle it in by combining it with immigration legislation (which they basically had to do because just 35 percent of GOP voters support additional Ukraine aid). The base was never enthusiastic about this. But many were willing to hold their nose and accept real immigration reform along the lines of the excellent H.R.2 immigration bill in the House in exchange for Ukraine aid.

But instead, McConnell sent a team led by Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and supported by immigration squishes like Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, John Thune, and John Cornyn. They have negotiated a monstrosity, the details of which haven’t been officially released—but even those that have leaked make this bill a hard pass.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has been very good at messaging publicly that the Senate GOP amnesty’s bill was a dead letter, long before Trump got involved in opposing the current Senate bill. But John Thune is talking about a “drive to get things done” while Lindsey Graham is emphasizing that we won’t get a better deal under Trump. Romney complained that “the fact that [Trump] would communicate to Republican senators and Congress people that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem, but basically wants to blame Biden for it—this is really appalling.” “It is immoral for me to think you looked the other way because you think this is the linchpin for President Trump to win,” said North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis. “Texas can’t afford to wait 11 months,” said Sen. Cornyn.

The GOP Senate establishment, including Romney, who will (mark my words) endorse Biden at the 2024 Democratic Convention in a fit of girlish pique, are endorsing disastrous policy while undermining President Trump’s main campaign message. It’s unforgivable.

H.R.2 would have restarted the border wall, made asylum much tougher to obtain, and enacted many other reforms. By contrast, this Senate “compromise bill” seems designed expressly to undermine President Trump on his strongest issue. One can only assume that McConnell would much prefer President Biden to President Trump, which is why he worked so hard behind the scenes in the January 2021 impeachment. Trump is correct that there is no reason to do a border deal “unless we get EVERYTHING we need to shut down the INVASION.” Lankford, while leading on the GOP’s biggest priority, acknowledged that he “had not talked to Trump in months.” What kind of madness is this? We need to be ending asylum, not discussing how many thousands of illegals we are going to let in per day.

Steve Daines, the senator from my state of Montana and current NRSC chair, was one of the only senators in leadership who seemed to be on-message. “It seems to me quite ironic that folks are blaming Trump for the border deal when this is Biden who created the problem and can solve the problem unilaterally through executive action.” This is, of course, obviously true, and should be the only message the GOP should have been delivering from the beginning.

The Republicans cannot be an America First party when the champion of America Last is leading the Senate. The respected Monmouth poll recently showed McConnell has an almost unbelievable 6 percent approval rating among voters, including negative 31 percent among Republicans. His numbers are, as they usually have been, far worse than any other congressional leader. His failed “leadership” over a decade and a half and his more recent wars with Trump and GOP voters have been the biggest impediment to moving the party forward. From both a political perspective (a party that cares about winning) and a policy perspective (making good policy), McConnell has been a disaster.

According to one recent article, “Lankford noted that the deal they are working on now, if passed, will set immigration policy for decades.” All the more reason to send this abomination to the chopping block.

It is easy to blame Lankford, a former Christian camp director who is clearly out of his depth negotiating a high stakes issue with the Democrats. But the reality is it was McConnell who chose Lankford and McConnell who is to blame for the Senate’s disastrous strategy and messaging on immigration. If Trump is serious about an America First second term, he must demand that McConnell resign from leadership and be replaced by someone capable of leading the entire Senate GOP without not just stepping on Trump’s message, but ignoring the priorities of conservative GOP voters and senators.

The great French diplomat Talleyrand was once reputed to have said of a politician’s unforced error that it was “worse than a crime—it is a blunder.” And this blunder from McConnell, which has completely unnecessarily muddied Trump and the GOP’s most effective issue, needs to be the last act of McConnell’s political career.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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