'All a Political Game to Them': Trump and GOP Under Fire for Cynical Border Ploy

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IMMIGRATION - Critics have long argued that Republicans are interested only in using immigration—and increasingly hysterical claims of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border—as a political cudgel, and not in genuine policy reform.

That view appeared to receive some confirmation Thursday when Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) addressed reports that former President Donald Trump—the front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination—has instructed Republican senators not to strike an immigration deal with Democrats so that he can make the border a central focus of his bid for a second White House term.

"I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump," said Romney, who has opted not to run for reelection this year. "And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame [President Joe] Biden for it is really appalling."

Romney was responding to a journalist's question about comments that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly made during a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans on Wednesday. According toPunchbowl News, McConnell told his colleagues that the "politics on this have changed," referring to the GOP's demand that any military aid for Ukraine be paired with draconian changes to U.S. immigration policy.

"We don't want to do anything to undermine him," McConnell said of the former president, who won the Republican primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday after his landslide victory in Iowa last week, further establishing his stranglehold on the party.

Trump, who has pledged to launch the "largest domestic deportation operation in American history" if reelected, has repeatedly tried to insert himself into the ongoing negotiations, writing on social media last week that he'll accept nothing less than a "PERFECT" immigration deal. Proposals on the table reportedly include new asylum restrictions and cuts to the number of people allowed to live and work in the U.S. temporarily.

While some GOP senators pushed back on the notion that Republicans are preparing to drop their border demands to appease Trump's desire to campaign on the issue, The Washington Post's Aaron Blake wrote Thursday that "it's becoming increasingly difficult to dispute that Trump and some Republicans see political value" in preventing an immigration deal that could be seen as beneficial to Biden, who has expressed openness to cutting such a deal—to the dismay of rights groups.

"A comment I keep coming back to on this," wrote Blake, "is one from Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Texas), who just came out and said it early this month: 'I'm not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden's approval rating.'"

Other House Republicans—including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.)—have also indicated that they're not interested in serious immigration talks.

"I don't think now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform," Johnson said last week.

In response to Romney's comments on Thursday, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) asked, "Can we all finally agree that House Republicans and Donald Trump do not want to solve the border challenges?"

"It's all a political game to them," Garcia added. "We've proposed real solutions but the MAGA right isn't interested. Shameful."

Vox's Andrew Prokop wrote Thursday that "if Republicans do kill the deal, it would make all their protestations about how much they supposedly care about this issue look hollow, and the GOP would come off looking tremendously cynical."

"They claim to believe the migrant surge of the past few years is destroying the country," Prokop added, "but they'd be happy to let it continue unaddressed for another year if it means they win an election."

(Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)