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​​Congress Looks Like Just Another Trump Campaign Arm

Even Donald Trump understands the economy is getting better under Joe Biden—so much so that he’s taking credit for it. The stock market is surging, he recently said on Fox Business, “because they think I’m going to be elected.” While the president’s poll numbers don’t reflect the improved state of the economy, it’s getting harder to see how Trump can run effectively on the issue in the general election. However, Trump, who campaigned the first time around on building a wall on the southern border, will undoubtedly seize on immigration, which his loyalists in the GOP seem determined not to reform before November.

Trumpism takes a page from tea party nihilism, essentially; Michele Bachmann walked so Donald Trump could run. “By the 2010s—just before Donald Trump emerges—the tea party had taken the shape of a just-say-no, blow-it-all-up, don’t-cooperate, do-politics-on-Twitter faction,” Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol told Politico after right-wingers ousted Kevin McCarthy for not letting the debt ceiling expire and crashing the economy. That removal, she said, “is where it leads.”

Today’s burn-it-all-down GOP caucus has a vested interest in the federal government failing because it proves its thesis that government is bad. In this election year, those in the caucus also have a vested interest in making Biden look bad—and so, by acting almost as an arm of the Trump campaign, they appear willing to torpedo any compromise that could be perceived as helping the president’s reelection chances. Republican congressman Troy Nehls admitted as much last week during a video interview. “Why would I help Joe Biden improve his dismal 33%, when he can fix the border and secure it on his own?” he asked. “He can do it on his own through executive order.”

But Republicans, who talk endlessly about the southern border, have at least pretended in the past to want to craft legislation to address it. Last December, Republicans who were not anxious to allocate funding for Ukraine—presumably because they knew it would irritate their guy, Donald Trump—decided to tie aid to the country—something that the Biden White House desperately wanted—to border security.

It looked like an impossible task; America hasn’t passed any meaningful immigration reform in 20 years. It was so unlikely to happen that Republicans decided to run with it. Kansas senator Roger Marshall told NewsNation, “At the end of the day, Republicans aren’t budging [on Ukraine] until we secure the border. That’s the question that all America is asking Joe Biden right now: Why do Republicans have to beg Joe Biden to secure the border? That’s part of his job.”

Of course, Congress controls the money that Biden would need to secure the border; last year he requested almost $14 billion for the border, to be used for things such as hiring border patrol agents, immigration judges, and asylum officers. But House Republicans, who last month posed for photos at the Texas-Mexico border, seemed determined not to provide resources to fix a problem they’re fixated on. That’s because a crisis at the border provides something for Trump to run on, something for Fox News pundits to obsess over, and something for the news media to cover exhaustively in the midst of a presidential race.

But what Republicans didn’t count on was the ability of this White House to lean on Senate Democrats to negotiate a border bill. Democratic senator Chris Murphy, independent senator Kyrsten Sinema, who caucuses with the Democrats, and Republican James Lankford were able to agree on something. The $118 billion bipartisan border-security bill unveiled Sunday night includes support for Ukraine ($60 billion) and Israel ($14.1 billion), as well as humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine, Gaza, and the West Bank ($10 billion). Biden, majority leader Chuck Schumer, and minority leader Mitch McConnell have also expressed support for the measure.

It didn’t take long for the MAGA chorus to reject it, with Donald Trump Jr. quickly denouncing the “RINO-Dem immigration deal” and Representative Elise Stefanik saying the “Joe Biden/Chuck Schumer Open Border Bill is an absolute non-starter.” But Trump and company were already bashing the bill before they knew exactly what was in it, with the former president last month calling the compromise a “bad bill” and a “betrayal of America.” And House Speaker Mike Johnson, before seeing the text of the bill, declared it “dead on arrival.”

You’ll remember that Johnson really does serve at the pleasure of Donald Trump, with the congressman having acted as one of the legal architects of his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Johnson’s election denial and fealty to Trump helped propel him to the Speaker’s job, whereas the former president targeted another Republican contender, Tom Emmer, who didn’t try to block the certification of Biden’s victory. Given that just one member can call for a motion to vacate, Johnson is largely controlled by whoever is the most disruptive—and in this case, it’s his party’s right flank.

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