When Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was named speaker pro tem of the House of Representatives following a contentious vote to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), my colleague David North noted that McHenry was “not known for his positions on immigration matters”. The House Republican Conference has now nominated Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) to replace McCarthy, and there’s no need to speculate about where he stands on immigration and the border. He shared his thoughts at a Center panel discussion with me in October 2021, moderated by my colleague Mark Krikorian.
Those two topics — immigration and border security — are emerging as leading issues in the upcoming 2024 elections, largely if not exclusively due to the ongoing disaster at the Southwest border that has resulted almost exclusively from the Biden administration’s feckless and mercurial immigration policies.
The president is underwater in recent polling on his handling of immigration with American voters by anywhere between 28 points (in a September Harvard/Harris poll) to 36 points (in an October 17 CNN poll). Those numbers would be a lot worse were it not for the fact that Democrats overwhelmingly support the administration’s positions.
For example, in that CNN poll, which was conducted by SSRS Research, 1,255 U.S. adults were asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling immigration?” Some 68 percent of overall respondents disapproved, while just 32 percent approved.
The results were nearly reversed amongst the Democrats polled, 63 percent of whom approved of the job Biden is doing on immigration while 36 percent disapproved.
By contrast, Independents disapproved by a margin of 72 percent to 28 percent. The non-aligned will be the swing voters in next year’s elections, and the winning candidate will need their support. If the GOP can focus that election on the border and the national security and humanitarian vulnerabilities there, it will bolster their cause.
The speaker drives the agenda in the lower chamber and given the fact that the House starts the federal government’s annual funding process under the Constitution, he or she would have the tightest grip on the “power of the purse” to force a change.
Johnson is not only strong on border security, but he has also twice introduced legislation to help prevent fraud and abuse in the asylum system. Anyone who has followed the president’s hollowing-out of border security knows that any fix to the catastrophe the White House has created starts with reasonable and effective asylum reform.
The gentleman from Louisiana has a long way to go before he holds the speaker’s gavel, as there are apparently some moderates who are not completely convinced and a proposed plan to reinstate McCarthy with House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) taking a new leadership post. Jordan’s strength on immigration issues goes without saying, and McCarthy used his leverage to get H.R. 2 — the “Secure the Border Act” — passed through the House. All would be good choices from a border-security standpoint. But nothing will happen until there is a new speaker.
Fixing the immigration and border security mess the president has created will undoubtedly be high on the GOP’s agenda for the rest of the current 118th Congress, and if the new speaker is Mike Johnson, the man in the chair will also be one of the leading experts on that topic. Trust me — he and I had a long discussion on those issues in October 2021, which you can watch here.