On border policies, GOP’s Nehls says the quiet part loud (again)

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The negotiations between Democratic, Republican, and independent senators over the last two months have been difficult and contentious. Democrats want to advance an emergency package that would provide support for, among others, U.S. allies in Ukraine. Republicans have balked, saying they’d only consider the aid package if Democrats agree to far-right immigration and border policies.

This was, and is, a highly provocative position. GOP officials have effectively said they’re prepared to make it easier for Russia to take part of eastern Europe by force unless the White House and the Senate majority accept unrelated conservative goals.

While the original goal was to work out an agreement before the end of December, that obviously didn’t happen. That said, independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who’s involved in the negotiations, told reporters this week that members are “closing in” on a deal. Time will tell whether the Arizonan’s optimism proves true.

But let’s say for the sake of discussion that the tri-partisan Senate talks are fruitful, and they come to an agreement. Let’s also say that proponents of this hypothetical package somehow cobble together the support they’d need to get the measure through the upper chamber. What would happen in the Republican-led House?

A CNN report helped shed light on the answer.

A trio of senators have spent weeks laboring to cut a complex immigration deal with the Biden administration — all in an effort to curtail the surge of migrants at the southern border while easing passage for aid to Ukraine and Israel. But a growing number of House Republicans are issuing a blunt warning: A Senate compromise stands virtually no chance of passing their chamber.

To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. A few weeks ago, as the Senate negotiations progressed, some prominent far-right House members said the bill, whatever it might eventually look like, would almost certainly be rejected in the Republican majority in the lower chamber. As they saw it, negotiations include concessions, and GOP members would only tolerate getting everything they want without exception.

But the CNN report included one quote that was especially striking.

“Let me tell you, I’m not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden’s approval rating,” Republican Rep. Troy Nehls of Texas said. “I will not help the Democrats try to improve this man’s dismal approval ratings. I’m not going to do it.”

It’s a striking perspective. To hear the GOP congressman tell it, if Congress works out a bipartisan deal on a major issue, and President Joe Biden signed it into law, it might provide a political boost to the incumbent Democrat in an election year. So, as Nehls explained, it’s preferable to reject a policy agreement — even one that includes Republican priorities — and deny the White House a win.

It’s not that this is an unusual sentiment. What’s rare is to see and hear an elected official say something like this out loud to a major news organization.

What’s more, if Nehls’ name sounds at all familiar, it might be because he’s become the King of Saying the Quiet Part Loud. Remember the congressman who tied Donald Trump’s re-election bid to the GOP’s anti-Biden impeachment drive? That was Nehls. Remember the congressman who said the anti-Biden impeachment drive was about giving Trump “a little bit of ammo”? That was Nehls.

Remember the congressman who said the Ethics Committee’s findings related to then-Rep. George Santos looked “pretty damaging,” but the party should prioritize the size of its majority over propriety? That was Nehls, too.

To be sure, the candor is welcome, though by any fair measure, these on-the-record comments don’t exactly position the Texas Republican as a principled policymaker who’s serious about his governing responsibilities.

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