In the high-drama, down-to-the-wire immigration standoff that could cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security by Friday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed compromise to end the crisis has one fatal flaw: It makes too much sense.
And unfortunately for the country, when it comes to immigration, far-right conservatives stopped making sense long ago. These days, they only care about making a fuss.
Yes, it was a pleasant surprise that McConnell’s “clean” DHS bill, which funds the agency and puts the immigration fight off to another day, passed the Senate 98-2 (only James Inhofe and Jeff Sessions voted against it).
But there is still the House to reckon with. There, the conservatives vow that a clean bill will never pass. Insisting that they’ll oppose Obama on immigration with their last breath, Republicans go on conservative media outlets and blast as “executive amnesty” the baby steps that Obama has taken to temporarily delay the deportation of, for instance, undocumented parents with U.S.-born children, despite the inconvenient facts that amnesties are permanent and don’t come from the executive branch.
They reflexively portray Obama as soft on immigration enforcement, when the chief executive has deported a record number of illegal immigrants—more than 2 million in six years. They love to criticize what Democrats try to do to fix a broken immigration system that often makes it too hard to come legally and too easy to come illegally, while becoming evermore comfortable with doing nothing. And, finally, they beat their chests and talk tough about deporting illegal immigrants, but they rarely say a word about attacking the problem at its roots by fining the employers who give them jobs.
At this point, for many lawmakers on both the right and the left, the immigration debate is all about theater. What’s actually happening is not as important as the illusion that politicians are able to create. In a debate with so many thorns, the trick is do nothing but look busy, as if you’re actually doing something—even if that “something” is simply blocking what the other side is trying to do. Nothing gets dealt with, nothing gets solved. But at least no one gets hurt politically, the way they might if the debate were fully engaged. In an honest airing of these issues, both parties would splinter. In each, there are opposing factions—some that want more immigration, others that want less. Neither party wants this reality to be exposed.
Democrats waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince voters on the left that they’re compassionate and fair, and that they really want to pass some sort of comprehensive immigration reform that would give the undocumented legal status and perhaps even a path to citizenship.
Yeah, sure. That’s why, back in 2009 to 2011, when Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue—the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives—the party leadership put immigration reform so far on the back burner that the issue completely fell off the stove. Nothing got done. The issue wasn’t even discussed.
In much the same way, Republicans waste a lot of time and energy trying to convincing conservative voters that Republicans will hold the line against illegal immigration, and that the GOP is the only party that can be trusted to protect the borders and secure the homeland.
This is precisely the narrative that is now being threatened by the fact that Republicans are willing to gamble with the concept of homeland security. If conservatives cared as much about keeping Americans safe as they do scoring political points off the immigration issue, they wouldn’t shoot craps with the Department of Homeland Security. The department is too important, especially at a time like this when ISIS is killing Americans and terror cells are being uncovered around the world.
The huge department includes Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Coast Guard. Which one of these agencies do Republicans in the House and Senate consider dispensable at the moment?
These are serious times that call for serious leaders, and, up to now, McConnell hasn’t seemed up to the challenge. He hasn’t had the courage to stand up to the more ideological members of the Senate Republican Caucus, or the common sense to come up with a practical solution to the logjam.
And while the Senate majority leader finally did come up with a way to give Senate Democrats what they want to end their filibuster of a House bill that blocks funding for Obama’s executive actions, the truth is that he could have put this proposal on the table weeks ago.
It’s been more than a month since House Republicans—along with two Democrats—started taking hostages in their rhetorical shoving match with the White House. Ten Republicans broke with their party and voted no on the bill to block funding for the executive actions.
And now, conservatives have stupidly painted themselves into a corner, framing the debate over Obama’s executive action in terms that are so all-or-nothing that any wavering will be seen by conservative media and rank-and-file Republican voters as caving in. And above all, Republican lawmakers are terrified of being accused of that. So they have no choice but to press ahead, even at the risk of jeopardizing homeland security.
That’s where we are. It’s a complete abdication of leadership by Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans—one that briefly found support among far-right Senate Republicans who were more than happy to give aid and comfort to the lunatic fringe of their party, and some of whom may yet come back around to that view. All because they’re afraid of having to go home to their districts and face angry voters. That’s the prison that Republicans find themselves in, and it’s of their own making.
McConnell had the right idea. You need to separate homeland security from the immigration debate. In Congress—just like at PTA meetings, and Little League games, and on talk radio—the immigration issue makes Americans crazy. Pick up a history book. It has always had that effect on us, no matter who the immigrants were or what country they were coming from. Even so, our enemies don’t pause for politics. And, given that irrefutable fact, homeland security is too important to be held for ransom.