Paul Ryan Has Sacrificed the Rest of His Principles

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Paul Ryan, departing ingloriously from Congress in six months, has capitulated to Donald Trump and House right-wingers at the expense of the "Dreamer" immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age.

Ryan blocked a bipartisan bill that would have given the Dreamers protection from deportation and given them a pathway to citizenship. The measure also would have provided money for more sensible border security than the expensive and inefficient Trump wall.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Will Hurd, whose South Texas district covers 800 miles along the Mexican border, and California Democrat Pete Aguilar, easily would have won a majority in the House. But Ryan took his marching orders from Trump, who sees immigration-bashing as a big campaign issue in the fall campaign, and prevented a vote.

Instead, the House this week will take up a harsh measure offered by the nativist chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, and a politically motivated "compromise" the Republican leadership is trying to cobble together.

Ryan started in politics as a disciple of the late Jack Kemp and as a pro-immigration "opportunity society" Republican. He abandoned those principles to pander to Trump and the so-called Freedom Caucus, and this latest endeavor is another black mark on what has been a miserable final turn for him.

The result will be either nothing passes, or the fraudulent "compromise" -- designed to give some endangered House Republicans phony talking points in the fall -- squeaks through. The Dreamers will continue to be left in the lurch.

Ryan, who announced two months ago he wasn't running for re-election, stayed on as speaker to parlay his political fund-raising prowess. Last month he got rolled by the Freedom Caucus and couldn't pass a farm bill.

The Wisconsin Republican is a big Trump casualty. The two really don't like each other. But even though Ryan is a man who abhors bigotry, and on occasion has distanced himself from Trump's actions and rhetoric, he has more often been an enabler.

Trump loves the politics of immigration-bashing. The Dreamers are young, aspiring Americans who are contributing members of society. But to Trump, they are vehicles. He doesn't want any legislation to distract from his fear-mongering in the midterm election.

This administration is sanctioning the separation of children from parents by border security, leaving small children isolated and scared. It's also cracking down on asylum-seekers, a number of whom are fleeing gang violence and political repression in their countries.

"We are now a country that tells refugees -- women fleeing violent abuse, young people fleeing murderous gangs and people fleeing terrorist groups -- to go to hell," says Frank Sharry, a leading advocate for immigrants. "We are now a country that purposefully rips toddlers from the arms of their parents."

The hard-line bill by Representative Goodlatte of Virginia creates more repression. It would provide very limited protection for Dreamers. As for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it would make their presence here a criminal, rather than a civil, offense.  It would mandate government approval of all new hires through the E-Verify database.

The bill, according to some calculations, would reduce future legal immigration by almost 40 percent. As well as civics,  chairman Goodlatte flunked economics: There's no way America can remain competitive by drastically reducing that many potential workers and job creators. 

The president will meet with House Republicans on Tuesday and is fine with either Republican bill. The only real pro-Dreamer bill is the bipartisan one that Trump opposes and Ryan won’t allow to come up for a vote. The alternative partisan measure would provide limited protection for Dreamers, though not as much as the Hurd-Aguilar proposal, and curb, but not end, some of the most tragic aspects of the treatment of children at the border -- though some immigration advocates question if it would even do that.

It would also cut back legal immigration, blocking some people who have waited for years, and fully finance construction of the insane border wall, authorizing extensive use of the National Guard for that purpose. Relief for the Dreamers would be tied to the wall funding.

The internal House Republican battle last week was between a couple dozen moderate conservatives versus the Freedom Caucus, which more aptly should be called the Fear Caucus. The moderates included California's Jeff Denham, Florida's Carlos Curbelo and Colorado's Mike Coffman, all facing tough re-elections in districts where Hispanic voters could make the difference. But the House fight was a mismatch. The moderates folded to the immigration-hating right-wingers, who are tough.

Some Ryan apologists rationalize that if he had allowed a vote on the Hurd-Aguilar measure -- the speaker disingenuously claims that all he wants is to give members a vote -- the right-wingers would have had his head instantly.  So Ryan gets to keep his job for 200 more days, thwarts the will of the House majority and avoids offending Donald Trump.

He also relinquished the last sliver of his political soul.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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