Last week, President Obama told the Latino television network, Univision, that the greatest failure of his presidency thus far was the lack of progress on immigration reform. Stepping aside the debatability of that statement (alas, my rant on why his handling of the BP oil spill is a much greater display of administrative incompetence will have to wait), his statement refocused underlying questions over how much his administration can take responsibility for failed legislation considering the abnormally obstructionist Congress he’s had to endure.
In fact, following the admission of what sounded like the president submitting his own shortcomings, he proceeded to blame Congress for failing to bring the coveted DREAM Act to his desk. So much for taking responsibility for a less than perfect first term.
Photo courtesy of Jens Schott Knudsen
A brief refresher for those unaware or who don’t remember – the DREAM Act would provide young illegal immigrants of good moral standing a path to citizenship if they decided to join the military or go to college. Or in conservative speak, a path to take our (slightly higher paying) jobs.
The politics of the legislation, like that of health care and the debt ceiling debates, highlight all the great cog that stymies our democracy: A Republican Party beholden to xenophobic fiscal extremists touting themselves as libertarians would just as soon eat their own shoes than cower to socialists who want to give illegal immigrants free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, let alone education [sic-ed.].
There’s a great game of Mad Libs to be played with that last sentence. Just strike the words that have to deal with the issue at hand, switch a few ideological distinctions, flavor with some colorful metaphors of choice, and have a ball. Watch, it’s easy: A Republican Party beholden to libertarian extremists touting themselves as fiscal hawks would just as soon consume their own excrement than cower to Democrats who think it’s less expensive to have a public option than to let the uninsured just go to the emergency room when things get bad, just like everyone else. You get the idea.
Hence, the DREAM Act (or any movement on immigration reform — more on this in a moment) doesn’t stand a chance if the ideological makeup of Congress goes unchanged come November, whether or not the president is re-elected. Because, you know, god forbid the right to give our president an inch at the bargaining table or that he actually listen to them instead of pretending like he is. Which reminds me, we haven’t heard too much from those pesky congressional races. So how are they looking?
Real Clear Politics reports a distinct Republican advantage in the battle over the House of Representatives, despite the left’s enthusiasm over Speaker Boehner’s insecurities. He told Fox News in April that the GOP stands a one-in-three chance of losing control over the House.
His odds might be erring on the side of pessimism to urge his supporters to act, but it doesn’t pale in comparison to the desperation felt by the other side of the isle. Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent an email blast to supporters reporting Boehner had extracted $4.1 million from Republican members to save their “teetering majority” with a subject heading reading “all-out panic mode.” Considering the numbers and names change depending on which set of emails you’re getting, the only verifiable portion of that message is in quotations, as no reports of such shifts in campaign funds have arisen anywhere else in the media.
Whether or not Republicans can hang on to the House, it won’t be by a great enough margin to dissuade the sort of legislative dysfunction we’ve seen in the last four years. With only a handful of representatives meaning the difference between voting majorities, how could legislative productivity possibly improve in any direction?
As for the Senate, we also see a slimming majority setting the stage for continuing deadlock. With the media’s eyes all over the epochal Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren race in Massachusetts – currently being decided by 2.6 percentage points in favor of Warren – races in Montana, Connecticut, Indiana, and Nevada are being decided by even narrower margins. In all likelihood, the 2012 elections could deliver us a Senate split right down the middle, 50-50.
While Tea Party caucuses in both chambers have no doubt learned considerable lessons in the time since the debt ceiling debacle of last summer, they can hardly be described as reliably cooperative in terms of willingness to compromise. Lest we forget, immigration isn’t an issue that conservatives see eye-to-eye on, historically speaking. Back in 2007 when we had a Republican president, a Democratic Congress, and a bi-partisan bill sponsored by John McCain and then-Senator Barack Obama, comprehensive immigration reform was gutted because conservatives couldn’t agree over amnesty.
Five years later, there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel for immigration reform of any kind. In which case, I’m still confused as to what the president hoped to accomplish by taking the blame for not getting it done — you know, besides pandering to the Latino vote on the largest Spanish-language television network. Sure, it plays to the hearts of liberals and independents when a candidate can admit he is fallible, but such humility would carry actual weight if the president admitted fault for circumstances over which he had some substantive control.
I, for one, can think of a few residents in Grand Isle, La. who would love to hear where else the president believes his leadership has failed.