It’s clear that the biggest hurdle to getting a deal done lies in the House of Representatives. That’s because the House has been warped into a majoritarian body frequently run by an extreme minority — a group of lawmakers empowered and emboldened by gerrymandering. If we don’t require that all states get out of the gerrymandering business, then different versions of this fiasco will continue to play out.
President Barack Obama first implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012, protecting immigrants from deportation if they were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday, were in or graduated from high school or served in the military, had not committed a felony and could pay a significant fee. DACA recipients, known as “dreamers,” are part of our communities and make our country stronger. Polls consistently show that almost 90 percent of Americans favor allowing immigrants who were brought to the country as children to stay.
But the minority of Americans who want dreamers deported hold a very large sway in the House. It’s the same group of Americans who are strongly opposed to any form of immigration reform that isn’t entirely restrictive and punitive. They also encouraged a subset of the Republican Party to prevent a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in a 68-to-32 vote in 2013 from even getting a vote in the House.
In our gerrymandered House, most members represent strongly partisan districts. The Cook Political Report, an independent nonpartisan service, reports that 80 percent of House districts are entirely safe for the incumbent party. These are districts that are essentially impossible to flip, where general elections will often be rote affairs subject to little campaigning, press coverage or debate. This makes lawmakers accountable to only a subset of a subset: the primary voters in their own parties. It’s not just that there’s no incentive to be bipartisan; it’s that bipartisanship is actively being deterred. That’s how 10 percent becomes more important than 90 percent.
Gerrymandering isn’t the sole cause of every safe partisan district, but it has certainly made the problem worse. Even when accounting for natural population sorting, regional variation and incumbency advantage, it simply shouldn’t be the case — as it is now — that Democrats will likely have to win the national ballot by eight or nine points to secure a slim majority in the House.
It is critical to point out that both parties are guilty of gerrymandering and that it encourages strongly partisan behavior in both parties. In fact, a common feature of Democratic gerrymanders is to make Republican districts redder (and vice versa). It all leads to more dysfunction.
Beyond just preventing bipartisan immigration reform, the broken House is a fundamental threat to the proper functioning of our government. After all, the Founders designed the House to be the most representative chamber in the most representative branch of government. In Federalist 52, Madison wrote that it was “essential” that the House be constructed in such a way as to have “an immediate dependence on, and intimate sympathy with, the people.”
As a representative from one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, I’ve made addressing this issue a priority because it is incredibly important to my constituents. I’ve filed legislation to end congressional gerrymandering in each of the past three Congresses. My bill would end partisan gerrymandering by requiring that all states use independent commissions for congressional redistricting. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday and mandate open primaries in which the two candidates with the most votes — regardless of party — appear on the general ballot, widening the relevant electorate for House members.
Incentives really matter, and making more members of Congress accountable to more people will allow us to tackle the big issues of the day and start solving problems instead of creating them. Let’s make the House of Representatives representative again.
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