What a week in Washington. The first surprise was when the lame duck Senate had an opportunity to deliver Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) passage of the Keystone Pipeline package. They failed. Landrieu believed passage would have been helpful in her upcoming runoff to keep her seat in the Senate. It is debatable if it would help. In any case, her own colleagues couldn’t swallow the controversial bill to help her out, even though they know the new Senate will pass a similar bill in January. She is 15 points down in the polls, and lightning would have to strike to close that gap by the December 6 election. So her Democrat colleagues in the Senate said to hell with it. Been nice knowing you sister.
And then the Main Event. Immigration. President Obama’s Executive Order (EO) was released with another trademark how-do-you-argue-with-that speech Thursday night. Details of the order were being slowly leaked during the week, so insiders were not shocked by the details he delivered. Speaker of the House John Boehner issued his “prebuttal” about an hour before the President’s speech. Yes, the word “prebuttal” is new to the Contrarian, but I think I have found a whole new way to whine that is truly exciting. Isn’t it awesome announcing how against something you are before you officially know what the something is? This is like speed dating with the goodbye kiss, handshake or obscene hand gesture coming first. I digress.
So let’s review the highlights that lead to the EO. President Obama campaigned on immigration reform six years ago, and since. This, in and of itself, has been the primary reason for his political rivals’ procedural opposition. Part of the bad news for Republicans is that during the last six years, border security has improved sharply and the number of illegals crossing into the country is at the lowest level since the 70’s. The momentum once held by factions of the Republican Party to build a wall and pepper the borders with land mines is fizzling out with voters and leaders of the GOP know it. This part of the issue is trending away from them.
Then we had the Senate passage of S. 744 on June 27, 2013. This bill was a comprehensive immigration package that passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote. President Obama supported it. Big deal Senate Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain voted for it. In fact, when the new Senate takes control in January, there are still 56 members that have already voted yes on it, 13 of whom are Republican. With two new Democrat members that have been elected to replace vacancies since last summer’s vote, the real number of supporters should be 58. 58?! With this “new” Senate? So let us please spend some time talking about the real problem.
That problem is that Speaker of the House John Boehner is unable and/or unwilling to lead his caucus to a solution of their own.
As reported by Politico, House Republicans came relatively close to unveiling a plan of their own this summer. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida had apparently done all of the requisite legwork in May and June to release a House bill that had 120 Republicans ready to support it. Coupled with Democrats that package would have passed. The unveiling was planned for June 12. Shockingly however, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was upset in his Virginia primary on June 10. The defeat came in part because his opponent claimed the powerful House member was “soft on amnesty.”
I remember how this primary election upset rocked the political world. At the time, many Democrats giggled about it as a sign that House leadership did not have the support of their own people. Again, it was a sign that they were eating their own. Ha ha, right? Well actually, immigration reform was the big loser that day. In this way, Democrats, President Obama in particular, lost something too. But most of all for conservative Republicans, it scared them into encircling their wagons. What happened to those 120 willing supporters that were there earlier that week? Speaker Boehner lost something big: the ability to claim that he is truly in charge of the House.
House Leadership knew the President was preparing to act alone as early as May of this year if they didn’t pass something. They have been preparing for this whole “prebuttal” act since Cantor lost. As opposed to taking the support they had in their own caucus and getting their job done.
Now, let’s talk about the options on the table for Republicans in both chambers now that the President has acted alone. Well let’s see, I have heard threats of government shutdown, blocking all presidential appointments, impeachment, lawsuits, and finally and in this order as reported by Reuters, passing their own immigration package. That last one is really their only decent option as far as fulfilling their service to the American people is concerned. But they like that option the least since that’s what the President really wants in the first place.
Presidents almost always win these kinds of fights, and it looks like this one is headed that same way. It’s ironic really, considering the midterm thumping Democrats took just a couple of weeks ago.
One last head scratcher for the dozens of Contrarian loyal readers in Indiana: in response to the EO, Governor Mike Pence threatened a lawsuit of his own. It would seem to me that this kind of move, if responded to in kind by the President, might jeopardize the most important policy initiative of Pence’s that the federal government currently controls, HIP 2.0. I might have advised our governor to stand down on immigration for fear that the President might do unto others….
In summary, President Obama has put Republicans in a box on this one. The Republican response to it sounds similar to the ongoing debate on healthcare reform. But this one is wildly different than that one. Republicans can, and should, end this debate by putting their own immigration package on the Presidents desk in January. I am rooting for the Rs on this–the country will be a better place if they swallow and pass their own bill.
But most of all, let’s not forget as a people which people this debate is mostly about. It’s about a large and important group of people that are an integral part of the American culture today. It’s about people that came here to work, raise a family, educate their children AND pay taxes. They are a part of us. As the ultra conservatives in Congress continue to pretend this isn’t true, I find myself wondering who thinks more like me–the people who seem to want every last undocumented person deported, or those 5 million people of families that desperately want to stay here in peace. More and more I find myself gravitating toward the latter in every way.
There is a long list of practical, compassionate, and politically smart Republicans in Congress. This group knows that this mess is helping a Hillary Clinton for President campaign as much as anything. Latino voters united in voting against Mitt Romney two years ago. And I am betting they will unite again if a Republican for them to rally around doesn’t show up soon.
So if the next President is named Clinton, we will certainly be able to point to this exercise as a large contributor to that result.
And if the Contrarian has his way, the first cabinet post in a new Clinton administration will be Secretary of Energy, Mary Landrieu. I’m pretty sure she will be available.