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Two More Signs that the GOP and Tea Party Are One

On climate and immigration, the right wing is firmly in charge

Alex Wong/Getty Images News

Two different senators were in the news on Wednesday, for statements on two different issues. Together they painted one very depressing picture about the extremism of the Republican Party.

One of the senators was Marco Rubio, from Florida, who once cultivated an image as a Republican who could help the party mend its rift with Latino voters. To do so, Rubio worked on crafting his own version of legislation to help so-called DREAMers, the undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. as children and had spent their whole lives here. Later, in 2013, Rubio helped craft a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. But that was before immigration reform became the new Obamacare, and Rubio’s efforts on behalf of it became a major liability on the right. Now Rubio is telling everybody who will listen that he’s a different man.

That includes conservative journalists, like Byron York of the Washington Examiner. “Rubio’s office got in touch this week to say the Florida senator and possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful wanted to discuss immigration,” York’s column begins. From there, it describes how Rubio’s position has shifted. Today, the senator thinks reform legislation should not move forward until a new, much tighter border security scheme is on the books and fully in place. Rubio is also delivering his new message to DREAMers themselves. During a recent political event in South Carolina, chronicled by CNN’s Peter Hamby and then (with handheld video) by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Rubio scolded one group of them after they showed up to protest. "We are a sovereign country that deserves to have immigration laws," Rubio said. "You're doing harm to your own cause because you don't have a right to illegally immigrate to the United States."

It’s what you expect Republicans to say these days. It’s just not what you expect Rubio to say—or what you would have expected him to say a year or two ago, before his transformation.

The other senator whose comments were in the news on Wednesday was James Inhofe. His comments were less dramatic—delivered by e-mail, in the form of a press release. They came in response to some breaking news, first reported in the New York Times: Obama may seek an informal international pact on reducing greenhouse gases, rather than pursue a binding treaty, when world leaders meet next year in Paris to discuss climate change.

My colleague Rebecca Leber, QED’s guru on environmental issues, has a fuller explanation of what Obama has in mind and what it might entail. The logic is straightforward. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to ratify a formal treaty and there is zero chance Republicans would go along with that—a point Inhofe’s subsequent comments made very, very clear. “The Senate will not ratify a treaty that binds the United States to a regulatory body at the United Nations,” Inhofe said, “and we will continue to fight the President’s economy crushing domestic greenhouse gas regulations.”  

Stop and think about that quote for a second. Global warming is a worldwide problem, which means it requires worldwide action, which means the U.S. will have to be part of some kind of worldwide regulatory scheme. Inhofe won’t even think about it. And while Inhofe has a reputation as an extremist, he’s not an outlier here. Yes, John McCain endorsed a cap-and-trade plan when he was the Republican nominee for president in 2008. But he’s basically disavowed that idea. Good luck finding a prominent Republican in office who will even speculate about such a proposal today.

Rubio and Inhofe represent what core Republican voters think, for sure. But as you’ve heard a million times by now, core Republican voters are older and whiter than the typical American. And while the polls on both climate and immigration reveal typically conflicted and complicated views, on the whole these committed Republican voters tend to hold more conservative positions than other Americans.

For Democrats thinking about their political prospects in 2016 and beyond, this is good news, given demographic trends. But for now and for the foreseeable future, Republican extremists have the power to block policy changes in Washington, thanks to Republican control of the House and their strong presence in the Senate. The real-world implications of this political situation are millions of people stuck in immigration limbo and a planet cooking to the point where damage is irreversible. That is nothing to celebrate.

Jonathan Cohn

News from Wednesday:

HEALTH CARE: The Congressional Budget Office released its updated budget outlook Wednesday and once again, lowered their projections for Medicare spending. Margot Sanger-Katz and Kevin Quealy have a great graphic showing it. (The Upshot)

SEXISM IN THE SENATE: Kirsten Gillibrand reveals to People that it was common for her Senate colleagues to call her "porky" after she had a baby. "Don't lose too much weight now," one said. "I like my girls chubby." (NY Post)

ECONOMY: Matt O'Brien explains why you should listen very carefully to the words that European Central Bank head Mario Draghi ad-libbed at his last press conference. (Wonkblog)

SHUTDOWN WATCH: Republican leaders aren’t eager to provoke another government shutdown this fall, as Danny Vinik has noted. But Representative Steve King seems to have other ideas—and, as we’ve seen before, his wing of the GOP has a lot of power. (Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly)

REFINERY EXPLOSION: A refinery owned by BP in Whiting, Indiana exploded late last night, starting a fire. The same refinery recently began processing Canadian tar sands and spilled crude oil into Lake Michigan earlier this year. Strangely, 59 years ago to the day, the same refinery exploded, too. (WSBT)

Articles worth reading:

Happy Labor Day, but not really: If it seems like corporate America has gotten way more obsessed with profits, at the expense of workers, that’s because it has. Harold Meyerson explains. (Washington Post)

Nah, Nah, Nah... Remember when Obamacare was going to be THE ISSUE of the midterm elections? Well, that isn't happening. (Derek Willis, The Upshot, and Dylan Scott, TPM)

Republicans stuck with a bad image: The GOP's internal polls find women view the party as "intolerant," "lacking in compassion," and "stuck in the past." (Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, Politico)

Tony Soprano didn’t die. Or maybe he did? Read all about it at Vox.

Stories we're watching:

Continued outrage from the right over reports of what Obama plans on both immigration and climate change. Red-state Democrats facing tough reelections are joining the chorus claiming the President is overreaching.


Uber is poaching drivers from its rival, Lyft, and Danny Vinik couldn’t be happier about what it means for workers. Meanwhile, California lawmakers are on the verge of passing a bill that would guarantee all workers up to three paid sick days a year. Nearly half of the state’s workers have no paid sick days at all. The problem is particularly severe among low-income food preparers and servers—yes, precisely the people you want sneezing at work.