Opinion

Ryan caved on immigration to become speaker

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., left, has a 77 percent white district and has made immigration his signature issue. One of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s first acts was to cave to Brooks in nixing an immigration overhaul.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., left, has a 77 percent white district and has made immigration his signature issue. One of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s first acts was to cave to Brooks in nixing an immigration overhaul. Associated Press file

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s weekend pronouncement that a much-needed immigration overhaul won’t happen provides a sad commentary on the start of his speakership.

In morning talk shows this past Sunday, Ryan blamed President Barack Obama, claiming Republicans “can’t trust” the president, who used his executive powers to tweak immigration policy, having rightly concluded that Congress was paralyzed on the issue. True enough, Republicans and Obama don’t get along.

But Ryan, who once claimed to support an immigration overhaul, promised to forgo immigration legislation until Obama leaves office in order to win conservative support to become speaker.

In other words, one of his first acts of leadership was to cede immigration policy to the likes of Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican and member of the so-called Freedom Caucus. Brooks, who has held elective office off and on since 1982, won his congressional seat in the Republican wave of 2010, and makes illegal immigration one of his signature issues.

In 2011, he declared he would “do anything short of shooting” illegal immigrants to make them stop “taking jobs from American citizens.” In 2014, he accused Democrats of launching a “war on whites.”

This year, Brooks fought to deny Dreamers the right to enlist in the military, a win-win idea that Rep. Jeff Denham, a San Joaquin Valley Republican and an Air Force veteran, had championed.

Brooks exacted the pledge from Ryan, writing in a letter he submitted to the congressional record that the Wisconsin Republican agreed to “not allow any immigration bill to reach the House floor” unless a majority of House Republicans support it. “Your past record and current stance on immigration conflicts with the values I represent and causes great concern to me and the Americans I represent,” wrote Brooks, whose district is 77 percent white and 2 percent Latino.

No matter that the U.S. and California chambers of commerce have called for an immigration overhaul, as have leaders in agriculture and the Silicon Valley.

“It is unfortunate that states without a stake in the outcome are driving the discussion,” California Chamber President Allan Zaremberg said in a statement.

Ryan has claimed the way for Republicans to advance their agenda is to speak to poor and minority voters. “Preaching to the choir isn’t working, and by the way, the choir is shrinking,” he wrote in his 2014 book. But that was so long ago.

Now, there will be no immigration bill, not in an election year, not when the president is a lame duck, and definitely not when all an ambitious politician needs to become speaker is to let some of his supposed convictions go.

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