Littwin: Turning the border crisis into yet another political game
Fair and Unbalanced
Let’s say you’re Rep. Cory Gardner (big hair, winning smile, federal personhood co-sponsor), finally home for a five-week recess from your day job at the House of Representatives, and you have to explain to millions of potential voters what in the world you’re doing back in Colorado.
If there’s a crisis on the border — as everyone agrees — then why, as a congressman, aren’t you back in Washington doing something about it?
I mean, it is a crisis, right? Involving kids, right?
The questions are obvious. The answers, which also seem obvious, are apparently a little trickier.
Gardner wants to leave the dysfunctional House and move up to the occasionally functional Senate. But will the House let him go? Come November, the big question is whether Republicans can take the Senate. Now that it’s August, the big question is whether House Republicans could have done anything more to remind people just what that might mean.
No alternative to Obamacare? Check.
No immigration-reform bill? Check.
No understanding of the meaning of the word “crisis”? You got it.
On Wednesday, the House voted to give House Speaker John Boehner the power to sue the president. That’s not a joke, or maybe it is. Here’s the funny part — and yes, that’s Barack Obama you see laughing — the House would sue Obama because he has delayed implementing the employer mandate in Obamacare. That’s the same Obamacare the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal.
OK, that’s a bad visual. It’s a temper tantrum. It’s impeachment-lite, allowing the Democrats to claim that impeachment will inevitably follow. It also allows a smiling Obama to tell a crowd that Republicans need to help out and to “stop just hating all the time.” Can you imagine a president saying that? Can you imagine the House suing him for saying it?
Gardner voted for a lawsuit. So did Rep. Mike Coffman. Do you want to have to explain that vote? I don’t think they do.
Then there was Thursday, which was worse. That’s the day in which the House failed to even vote on a border-crisis bill. They had a bill ready — an emergency bill that focused mostly on border security, even though the kids crossing the border immediately turn themselves in. How does more security help? Do we want the kids stuck on the other side with the drug cartels so they can continue to abuse them and worse? What we want is these kids to stay home — and possibly have the chance to seek refugee status there, certainly without making the dangerous trip to the border.
We have to remember what the border crisis is about. It’s about children leaving Central America, risking their lives to flee the violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala or to take the chance to reunite with their families. During the House debate on the bill that was never voted on, we heard of the horrors these kids face — rape and torture.
The law, as now written, allows them to claim refugee status and get a hearing with a judge and a lawyer. Republicans decided that the way to deal with them is to change the law so we can send frightened and abused kids home immediately.
Why didn’t the House vote on Boehner’s border bill? Because the hardest of the hard-right conservatives weren’t going to vote for any bill that didn’t include a way to derail Obama’s executive order to defer deporting of the so-called DREAMers.
Leading the debate is Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who, by all accounts, had pizza and Dr. Pepper with 13 of his House buddies in Cruz’ Senate office the night before the non-vote. When Boehner’s new whip counted the votes, they were suddenly way short. You think Boehner is hating on Cruz?
Also on Thursday, the Senate couldn’t get the votes needed to get a $2.7 billion border bill — the president had asked for $3.7 billion — to an actual vote. In other words, the Democrats lost by winning, 50-44, on a procedural vote, which is how the Senate rolls.
The congressional border-crisis failure reminds people why immigration reform hasn’t passed. And if they needed any more reminding, angry House Republicans — angry at their fellow Republicans — were doing that job.
As Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, told the Washington Post, “You can’t go home!” The message, he said, for Obama would be obvious: “You’re right, we’re a do-nothing Congress.”
The House Republicans are scheduled to regroup and figure out how to find a border bill they can vote on and pass. The betting was that they would. How could they not?
Not that it matters. The vote would be only for show. The Senate wasn’t going to pass a House bill, and the House wouldn’t have passed a Senate bill. And Obama will be left alone in Washington to work it out on his own.
Imagine you’re Gardner, home for the next five weeks, having to explain that.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.