On Congress and Dreamers
Terry H. Schwadron
Sept. 7, 2017
Is there any question anymore that Congress comprises at least three political parties rather than two?
The most conservative Republicans, whether formally part of the Freedom Caucus in the House, are unified, strong and acting independently of the GOP as a whole. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is seen as more or less equal in power to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, (R-Wisc.) on a spectrum of legislative proposals that range from health care to tax cuts.
So, it should come as little surprise that the decision by the White House to flip the immigration questions surrounding DACA, the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, to a returning Congress landed with a thud. Just as baffling as it is to have a president who has no real, practical ways to outline that might make his notions real, the only reality in Congress is that there will be major splits on each and every issue.
For once, Democrats were clear: There should be a straight vote to legalize DACA, picking up on the presidential challenge. But among Republicans, the response was all over the map, with various immediate attempts to tie the popularity of DACA legalization to reduced overall immigration, to approval for a Southern border wall, to any increase needed for the federal debt limit, to reconsideration of the Dream Act which the Senate passed but the House — read specifically the Freedom Caucus wing — rejected back in 2010.
Amazingly, the President made a deal yesterday with Democratic leaders to tie the first Hurricane Harvey aid to a short-term debt ceiling agreement, stranding all of his GOP leaders, moderate and conservative.
Let’s look more widely at the spread of issues facing Congress this month — hurricane aid, the budget, the debt ceiling, tax cuts, the wall, even another possible take on health care. In each case, voices like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) in the Senate and any number of conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) object. Senator Paul, for example, does not want to vote for DACA or hurricane aid or the wall by raising the debt ceiling without ordering an equal number of budget cuts, the most traditional of Republican theologies. For House conservatives like King, the issues of stopping any illegal immigration tops all else.
Rather than wonder aloud how President Trump remains unable to get a Republican-majority Congress to act on his agenda, let’s just acknowledge that we have no majority party in Congress. Much as a parliamentary system works, let’s just acknowledge that we have three (at least) entities in the House and Senate. That explains why nothing happens, why “bipartisan” efforts are bound to fail, and make each issue subject to whether the math for required votes governs what passes today as American values. And behind that façade are well-oiled financial interests who are pulling at the strings of the most extreme voices.
Even as Republicans in Congress were discussing their favorable views for the fate of Dreamers, Breitbart News was publishing the “crimes” committed by 0.0026 percent of Dreamers, including traffic accidents.
Politico suggested, “President Donald Trump just lobbed a ticking immigration time bomb at Capitol Hill with his decision to leave the fate of 800,000 so-called Dreamers in limbo — and lawmakers have no idea how they’ll defuse it. House Republican leaders, already scrambling to avoid a government shutdown and a default on the nation’s debt, are privately hoping to push the immigration battle until at least this winter. They, like the White House, want a down payment on Trump’s border wall with Mexico in exchange for codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — though House Democrats won’t say whether they’d accept tougher immigration restrictions in order to save it.”
Sen. Mario Rubio (R-Fla.) flatly disagrees with John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) over whether Congress should even consider a straight vote on the Dream Act; meanwhile, Democrats gathered as a group to say they will attach it to every bill this fall until it passes. Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ala.) and David Purdue (R-Ga.) pushed their own agenda through their RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Environment) measure to cut immigration overall and insist on limitations on employment in return for approving DACA. Four Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, would support another try at the Dream Act alone.
“The political and policy hurdles cast doubt on the prospects of salvaging DACA. Congress has struggled mightily with comprehensive immigration reform under multiple presidential administrations, in less polarized times,” Politico concludes, suggesting that Congress would aim for the most narrow portion of immigration law possible.
Meanwhile, the White House mystified all with a presidential tweet that said if Congress did not deal with the issue by March 5, 2018, “I will reconsider it.” No one seemed to understand what that meant. Did the President just take away the pressure he had applied hours earlier?
All this means absolutely nothing practical if you are one of these Dreamers who face the possibility of deportation from the only home they have known.
DACA presents a try Values question to a Congress that thinks values are about counting votes and gaining financial backing for re-election. It is a question in which logic, fact, even tradition seems to hold little meaning. In the end, it is about aligning three political parties that have come about because two can’t agree on anything.
We can do better.