Politics

Retiring Republican Partly Blames GOP Hardliners for Immigration Failure

Texas Rep. Joe Barton says party is shooting itself in the foot

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said his own party is partly to blame for the failed immigration compromise. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As prospects dim for Congress to pass immigration reform before the term’s end, one retiring Republican involved in last month’s compromise effort says his own party’s hardliners are partly to blame.

“Political demagoguery on both sides” stamped out the recent push by House leadership to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, Texas Rep. Joe Barton said.

“I think Republicans who keep shouting ‘amnesty, amnesty’ don’t help the cause,” Barton said. “And I think the Democrats being so insistent that they don’t want to fund anything for border security or the wall — [both parties] just sit there and yell at each other.”

Barton also said “we’re shooting ourselves in the foot as Republicans not to address the immigration issue” — but both parties’ leadership, including President Donald Trump, “don’t appear to be willing to really sit down and come up with something that both sides win and both sides give a little bit.”

The congressman’s comments critical of his own party came in a July 12 interview, after the House overwhelmingly rejected a so-called compromise bill in June despite weeks of negotiations in the GOP conference.

The Texas congressman, one of the most senior members of the House with 34 years of experience, has championed a bipartisan middle path on immigration that would increase border security, including funding for a southern border wall, while also extending protections for undocumented immigrants covered under the Obama-era DACA program.

Immigration is one of Barton’s last legislative efforts in Congress; he’s retiring at the end of this term after an anonymous Twitter account posted a nude photo Barton sent to a woman while separated from his second wife.

Ignoring extremes

Long considered one of the Hill’s most conservative members, Barton has become a bridge between Republican leadership and his party’s conservative wing. But he now finds himself closer to the middle on immigration compared to many of his Republican colleagues, and he’s frustrated with the fringe.

Ron Wright, the Republican candidate likely to replace Barton in Congress, would join a growing number of Hill Republicans who oppose a deal to stop the deportation of “Dreamers” — undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. Barton has been one of his party’s most vocal supporters of protections for Dreamers.

“I don’t see any reason to make an exception. If they were brought here as children, they’re still illegal,” Wright said in January.

Asked about Wright’s opposition to a deal on Dreamers, Barton said the primary candidates to replace him had been swayed by the party’s most extreme voters.

“The people who are showing up at the rallies, if they’re all yelling ‘don’t let anybody into this country, kick everybody out that came here illegally,’ that moves first-time candidates that way, because that’s what they’re hearing.”

Candidacy and representation are two differen things, Barton said.

The next person to represent the 6th District of Texas will have to represent everybody in the district, not just Republican primary voters, he said. He noted the growing number of Hispanic businessmen and women, educators and citizens in the increasingly diverse district are “not nearly as strident as the most vocal Tea Party activist in these primaries.”

Bipartisanship in decline

This year’s vitriolic fight over immigration reflects a broader trend in both parties over the last 15 years, according to Barton — politicians are listening more and more to their fringes.

Social media has made news and information instantly available and from a range of sources with vested political interests, Barton said. Partisan online media, which has moved people to contact their congressmen on highly politicized issues, also amplifies the extremes.

“The political parties have reacted to that, and it’s moved the Republican party more to the right and the Democratic party more to the left,” according to Barton, leaving few in the middle.

As a result, there are fewer and fewer people left in Congress with the experience or political will to forge bipartisan compromises. His advice for his successor — and the president — is to seek the middle ground more often.

“Things that become law and stay law are always bipartisan,” Barton said.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.