U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office of the White House (OSV News photo/Leah Millis, Reuters).

Before leaving Washington for the December holiday recess, House Republicans devoted the waning hours to authorizing an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Despite heated claims and breathless promises, Republican investigators have yet to turn up evidence of wrongdoing—to say nothing of high crimes and misdemeanors—on Biden’s part. As more than a few GOP legislators admit, they probably never will. Still, the measure passed with every Republican in favor. Meanwhile, Congress postponed votes on a funding bill that would prevent a partial government shutdown in early January, and on the Biden administration’s $111 billion emergency-spending bill for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan and for additional security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This is in character for the GOP. Rather than negotiate with Democrats on things that need to get done, they indulge in petty political stunts. Most Republican lawmakers have abandoned any pretense of governing, policymaking, and compromise, having learned that demagoguery, obstruction, and legislative extortion can deliver bigger payoffs. Refusal to engage with Democrats unless all their own demands are met has become their go-to approach. This tactic has been most recklessly deployed in the debt-ceiling “crises” of recent years, which Republicans have orchestrated in order to extort unpopular budget cuts, even if this means jeopardizing the American economy (“a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” in the infamously cynical words of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell). This year, grandstanding GOP senators raising frivolous objections have held up numerous Biden-administration nominees for government jobs. Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville staged a one-man blockade of hundreds of military promotions because he opposed funding for service members to travel for abortions. Ohio senator J. D. Vance is currently blocking nominees with his demands to weed out “wokeness” in the diplomatic corps. Kentucky’s Rand Paul wants to see documents related to the origins of the coronavirus, which he believes leaked from a Chinese laboratory, before he allows any nominations to go through. Meanwhile, important positions in the State Department and other agencies remain unfilled.   

In the impasse over Biden’s emergency-spending bill, it’s Ukraine that the GOP is holding hostage. At stake is $64 billion for that country’s defense against Russia’s invasion. There are important questions to be asked about the Biden administration’s longer-term strategy for Ukraine and its claim that holding up funding will only embolden Vladimir Putin to invade other countries. There are also good questions to be asked about the $15 billion promised to Israel—for example, whether it should be conditioned on a ceasefire in Gaza or a curb on settlements in the West Bank, and whether it’s needed in the first place. But Republicans are uninterested in discussing these important issues. Rather, they’re simply refusing to consider any bill that doesn’t include their proposals on border security. These were laid out in legislation that the House GOP adopted last May: resume construction of the border wall, raise the threshold for granting immigrants refugee status, and restrict the administration’s power to grant parole. There is nothing about creating paths to citizenship or extending protections for DACA recipients. And there is no willingness to do anything about the causes of migration—climate change, economic calamity, war. In short, there is no interest in fixing our broken immigration policy, only in reinforcing the border.

This is in character for the GOP. Rather than negotiate with Democrats on things that need to get done, they indulge in petty political stunts.

To his credit, California Republican representative John Duarte has urged his party to compromise on DACA protections. But his is a lonely voice. Senate Republicans are as unyielding as their House counterparts, and perhaps even more explicit about their aims. “There’s a misunderstanding on the part of Senator Schumer and some of our Democratic friends,” Texas Republican John Cornyn said in early December. “This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid” to get the bill.

But by late December, Democrats seemed willing to pay that price. Having made the mistake of bundling border security with aid for Ukraine in order to win Republican support, they find themselves at the GOP’s mercy. And with polls showing that an increasing number of Americans are concerned about the border, Senate Democrats also seem to be coming around to the Republican position. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod sees hardening public views on immigration as “almost a gift to have, under the cover of this broad package, to be able to do things that were perhaps tougher to do before.” This thinking represents a significant departure from Biden’s 2021 pledge to “restore humanity and American values to our immigration system.” Millions of U.S. voters still support a humane approach, and Democrats risk alienating them at a moment they can little afford to.

There have been a number of bipartisan attempts at comprehensive immigration reform since 2000, but all have failed. Were the final emergency-spending bill to include Republicans’ restrictive border-security measures, it would not be an achievement of bipartisan compromise. Rather, it would be an example of Democratic capitulation to imperious Republican demands—and another signal to the GOP that it can go right on making them.

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Published in the January 2024 issue: View Contents
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