What a difference 24 hours can make. On Thursday GOP House leaders had to pull a border security bill when back benchers once again bolted, claiming it did not do enough to discourage a border surge from Central America or to stave off the president’s unilateral moves. The MSM and other Democrats were downright gleeful. They have long since stopped caring about solving problems; they live for examples of Republican division. They exult when Republican inaction makes the party appear unable to govern effectively. This time however, the headline writers and Democratic spinners had the rug pulled out from under them.
This time House leadership did not give up. The speaker and his new leadership team ignored foolish advice from right-wing pundits to do nothing and go home. Had they followed the do-nothing crowd, House leaders would have only distracted attention away from the president and the Senate and called into question the GOP’s sincerity on border security. The GOP House — despite premature media celebration — did what lawmakers are supposed to. Leadership listened to members concerns and found some painless changes. Another $35 million was added to fund states that were required to deploy the national guard. (The bill was more expensive than the original version but still offset by other cuts.) In addition, the House beefed up language on minors seeking asylum, in effect undoing the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Act that prevents quick repatriation of minors to countries in Central America. (President Obama favored this change but then changed his mind.) And in separate legislation the House voted to prevent expansion of the president’s unilateral grant of work permits (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that aimed to shield from deportation children brought here as minors.
The Senate won’t agree to much (any?) of this, but unlike the House, the Senate beat a hasty retreat out of town without passing anything (the very strategy the do-nothing crowd was urging the House to follow). Brad Dayspring, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, via e-mail, called this “just the latest reminder that at the center of dysfunctional Washington lies Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate. Instead of heading home to campaign for a month, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Begich should be in Washington doing the job that taxpayers pay them to do.” He added, “Voters are sick and tired of Harry Reid’s incompetent management of the Senate and the Democratic Senators who empower him.” That’s one of a few arguments you will hear over and over again during the fall campaign, all directed at making the case that Reid is the main contributor to gridlock and endless partisanship.
Obama is likely to try once again to act unilaterally to extend work permits. His dangerous theory of executive power seems to be that he can ignore the entire legislative process and do whatever he pleases. But House Republicans have made this somewhat more problematic. The “failure to act” accusation now points to the Senate’s paralysis. Moreover, the same red state Democrats who will feel the wrath of voters for not acting this week have been pleading with the president not to up the ante (and attract perhaps more undocumented minors) by expanding DACA unilaterally. And for once Republicans are on the side of public opinion on immigration.
Friday’s events were important for several reasons. On the topic at hand, the border mess has changed the immigration reform dynamic, making the president the object of the public’s ire. The dichotomy between House action and Senate paralysis has reinforced the image of Democratic irresponsibility on border security, thereby absolving the House from much of the blame for not taking up the Senate’s immigration reform bill. Second, the passage of two border bills demonstrated the competence of the House’s new management team, including Whip Steve Scalise (La.). The backbenchers seemed also to have learned a lesson from the government shutdown last year: It’s better to work with leadership than to cause a legislative collapse, which only serves to make the House look nutty and dysfunctional. And finally, as much as hardline immigration opponents will deny it, this sets up a formula for additional immigration reform. The border-security-first concept may open the way for a handful of separate House bills that deal with the additional border and internal enforcement, visas for high-skilled labor and legalization (not citizenship). Once hardline conservatives see that they can only obtain real border security by working on legislation with their fellow Republicans, they may be more willing to build on the groundwork laid Friday evening.
To top it off, Senate Republicans on Friday pushed passed objections from a few penny pinchers for set-offs to pass $225 millionin additional Iron Dome funding. (This is an emergency funding bill for a war, fellas, so rummaging around for dollars to cut elsewhere isn’t a wise or necessary move.) The House then promptly passed the same funding bill Friday night (after completing work on the border bills). Once again premature celebration from the media that was all too eager to paint Republicans as the problem was short-circuited.
All of this bodes well for both the Senate and House GOP leaders. If they can line up their members and vote for popular and necessary items the public will trust them with majorities in both houses. Hey, it’s almost like governing responsibly.