Obama’s Simple Request: GOP, Don’t Hurt the United States

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President Barack Obama’s Friday afternoon speech touched on what the American people have come to know as his favorite themes: congressional Republicans’ refusal to compromise, the plight of middle class families in America, and the value of American diplomacy in solving crises abroad. While the president touched on July’s job creation numbers, immigration legislation, the possibility of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and the latest round of economic sanctions against a number of key sectors of the Russian economy, the discord between Republicans and Democrats was the thread tying together his far-reaching monologue on a range of domestic and international issues.

But despite the fact that Obama turned to a number of often-repeated monologues, his speech represented another round of the political game that is unfolding in Washington between House Republicans, who are moving forward with a lawsuit against the president and the White House. And his comments meant to indicate that discord will only continue as House Republicans continue to pursue extremist and untenable policy positions and to ignore his “mainstream” solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing problems, like massive student loan burdens, decaying infrastructure, and the border crisis.

In other words, House Republicans are standing in the way of greater economic “success” for the United States. Citing the 209,000 jobs employers added to payrolls last month and the second quarter’s 4 percent gross domestic product expansion, Obama noted that the engines of economic growth are “revving a bit louder.” But he argued that the U.S. economic engine could be turning over at far greater speed if House Republicans could only overcome their inability to compromise with Democrats, the White House, Senate Republicans, and even themselves.

Faced with acrimony on the floor from the GOP’s most conservative members, leaders of House Republicans — including Speaker John Boehner of Ohio — were forced to scrap a vote on a border security bill aimed at addressing the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border. The GOP has referred to this problem as a national crisis, but nevertheless, Republicans could not find consensus, even among themselves. And, with the Senate also failing to advance legislation meant to solve immigration issues, the Obama administration will not have access to the resources needed to stem the tide of tens of thousands of migrants from Central America, many of whom are children entering the United States alone, until the middle of September, at the very earliest. This inability to advance legislation drew Obama’s ire, and the president described the problem as “ a disagreement between House Republicans and House Republicans.” During Friday’s speech he also criticized House Republicans for failing “to act even on what they say their priorities are,” referring to the party’s 2013 promise to reform immigration and find a solution that would remove the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers from limbo.

The president spoke as Boehner met with the Republican conference to rework the House’s immigration reform bill, but Obama dismissed that effort to refashion the legislation. He called it a doomed “message bill” that would not solve any problems but allow the lawmakers to “check a box” before leaving Washington for the August recess. “House Republicans as we speak are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable [immigration] bill,” Obama stated. That bill is doomed because “it won’t pass the Senate and if it did, I would veto it,” he pledged. “They known that.” Originally, the legislation included $334 million in funds for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would enable the agency to boost enforcement at the border. It also included $40 million in repatriation assistance to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as well as $197 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to provide temporary housing and humanitarian assistance to the unaccompanied children and other migrants. Under the latest plan, the $659 million in additional funding would be provided to federal agencies handling the influx of migrants, a smaller sum than the $3.7 million requested by the president.

More importantly, the legislation represented a rightward shift in the party’s stance on immigration reform; the bill would change the 2008 anti-trafficking law, making it easier for the government to deport Central American minors who have entered the United States illegally and give governors of border states broader authority to deploy the National Guard. Furthermore, to gain support of Tea Party Republicans, the party’s leaders were planning to vote on a separate bill that would limit the president’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, which offers protection to approximately 500,000 immigrants who came to the country as children. But moderates have indicated they would vote against that measure. And Congress left Washington without fulfilling Obama’s request for emergency funds.  The president focused much of his speech on describing how House Republicans have grown more radical, claiming that the party has abandoned its old platforms, choosing instead to not pass plain “vanilla legislation,” such as immigration reform,” because it compromises their values.

“Why not just pass the 80 percent we agree on,” Obama asked rhetorically, referring to bipartisan portions of the immigration bill that would help solve the crisis. Instead, “I’m going to have to act alone,” Obama said because, without additional legislation, no funds remain to handle the overflow of immigrants at the U.S. border with Mexico.

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