Here is how the New York Times summarized yesterday’s vote in the Senate:
The 67-to-27 vote prevented any filibuster of the plan to devote roughly $40 billion over the next decade to border enforcement measures, including nearly doubling the number of border agents to 40,000 and completing 700 miles of fencing. Opponents of the measure questioned whether the security steps would ever be taken and said that the legislation should require that the border be secure before undocumented immigrants could seek legal status.
Except that the Corker-Hoeven amendment does nothing of the sort. Had it done so –had the 700 miles been real fence to be built on a real schedule to real specs and not subject to the whims of Janet Napolitano and the litigation strategies of various groups from environmentalists like the Natural Resources Defense Fund or open-borders enthusiasts– then the bill would have been worth supporting and the final product as well. Immigration reform is long overdue and a necessary step, but only in tandem with real border security.
This isn’t a real fence, it certainly isn’t a double-layered fence of 700 miles in length, and the amendment doesn’t provide real border security. Here is the text of the amendment. “The Southern Border Fencing Strategy,” found at pp. 34-36, simply orders the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to submit a fence strategy to Congress in six months that is supposed “to identify where 700 miles of fencing (including double-layered fencing), infrastructure and technology, including at points of entry, should be deployed along the southern border.”
That’s it. It is actually a watering down of the 2006 fence law. Most of the balance of Section (5)(b) has to do with making sure that all sorts of groups can sue to stop any portion of the fence they don’t like. Section 5(b)(5) grants the Secretary complete authority to waive any part of any fencing strategy she doesn’t like. Period.
So, after all these months, border security conservatives get…nothing. Nothing at all. Zip. It still promises the country same thing it has been promised since 2006, the same promised 700 miles of fencing, except that the promise is watered down on the double-layering and tricked up with a long shopping list from Sammy’s Camera and various contractors who sell surveillance equipment but who don’t build the sort of real fences that keep people out of, say, the White House grounds or any military base you attempt to approach. Oh, and the promise is made contingent on Janet Napolitano’s agreement. Was there drinking going on in the drafting room?
So I wouldn’t vote for this bill if I was in the Senate. I think it hurts the country badly and not because of its many other provisions. The bill isn’t amnesty. GOP supporters of it aren’t the worst double-crossers of all time. It doesn’t ruin Marco Rubio’s career. It just doesn’t build the real fence that we need for real security, and to which the GOP has been publicly allied for more than a half-dozen years.
The real fence just isn’t a priority for John McCain even though the senator campaigned on it again and again and again in 2010. I supported him against his primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth, in 2010 because I really did believe he really had come around to believing in the fence, and the primary campaign was largely about the need for the double-layered fence and John McCain’s support for it. Senator McCain certainly sounded convincing then and many other Republican senators have sounded committed to the real fence since, but they cannot be if they voted for this language because it doesn’t require any fence, of any length, and it doesn’t require whatever fence is built to have even one mile of double-layetred fencing with an access road which is the key to effective immigration enforcement.
I am told by pro-deal Beltway folks that the “border experts” didn’t want a fence. Well, if your department wants more people, bigger budgets, and lots of high tech toys to master and deploy, you aren’t going to support a low tech, low maintenance-but-very-effective static barrier. Not a single hearing was held on fencing this year –where it already exists in all its glorious 36 miles, the size and nature of what exists that isn’t “double-layered” but which is allegedly effective as a “pedestrian barrier” and when it was built, where that sort of “pedestrian barrier” fencing needs to be built but “double-layered” fencing isn’t needed, etc. The border is 2000 miles. The position of Corker-Hoeven is that two thirds of it is already impassable and needs no fencing. That claim –that 1,300 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border is impassable and needs no fencing at all– is on its face absurd. As is the argument that the Senate bill, with Corker-Hoeven, provides for a fence for the 700 miles that need one.
So I hope the Senate bill fails. It probably won’t, but if it passes the Senate I hope it dies quietly in the House. I don’t think I trust the House to come up with a strong enough fencing law to send to a conference between the Senate and the House. The base legislative strategy had to come out of the Senate in order to assure its survival in a conference, and it didn’t. Instead the Senate is going to produce a bill that the House really cannot pass because the center-right conservative base, a large portion of which which really only wants one thing –border security via real fencing– didn’t get what it wanted because a small group of Beltway insiders cobbled together what they thought would pass for what they thought that part of the base wanted. A trick, in other words, but one that not only fails, but which destroys trust in the process. No wonder the three senior GOP senators –Senators McConnell, Cornyn and Thune– opposed this farce. They represent the party and conservative states. They wouldn’t put their names on a sham and that tells you everything. “They coulda had a contender” is my sigh. They chose not to have one. They chose. Not border security advocates. And as Andrew McCarthy writes, they did so in a particularly offensive fashion.
Look, the selling of the amendment was initially very good. I was abroad when Corker-Hoeven was announced and I fell for the press release version and the first round of press coverage, the very sort of coverage that the New York Times perpetuates this morning. But this sort of nonsense doesn’t work for long anymore because a hundred thousand eyes read the real language, and eventually the truth comes out about a bill, like Obamacare, and now like Corker-Hoeven–and then voters realize it is a fraud on them. Does anyone imagine that proponents of a fencing strategy specifically and border security generally and are happier this week with the GOP than they were last week? Of course not! All these machinations produced a couple of new yes votes in the Senate and a very angry GOP base. Those voters call their House members who are up for re-election in 18 months ands yell at them, and the bill dies. A replay of 2007, once again led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, God’s gift to the Democrats.
No, the bill doesn’t kill Marco Rubio’s presidential hopes. It is a mistake, not a crime.
Worse than a mistake, it is an enormous missed opportunity, one of the greatest political opportunities ever open to an American politician, and at a crucial moment he didn’t seize it because he didn’t trust the voters he may ask to nominate him someday. Too bad. He is still a great natural politician, and the heat he is taking –much of it unfair– will not turn him into another Sunday show Republican, whose goal in life is to be in the green room of Meet the Press instead of church on Sunday morning.
The House GOP has to try and explain –again and again and again– that it would have supported a serious bill from the Senate, but not a giant trick, not “Obamacare Meets the Border.” Speaker Boehner could reprise his dropping of the thousand-plus pages of an unread bill on the House floor from the “Stimulus” debate of 2009. The page count is the same and so is the level of debate. There are lots of ways to react to this fiasco that will lessen the political hurt, but the GOP will suffer a political hurt. Hopefully it can repaired in the spring of 2015 when a new Congress picks up immigration reform again.
All the news sin’t bad, by the way. Take a look at this story out of Ohio where Governor John Kasich is showing what serious governance brings, which is economic growth and renewal. Christ Christie and Scott Walker have got great records as well, as does Bobby Jindal. Many of the GOP governors are continuing to show the way forward on how to fix real problems with serious legislation. Eventually the Beltway showboaters will figure it out and realize that legislation isn’t done in the dark, over the weekend, in defiance of the thoughtful opinions of the people who sent you there.
One last comment. The GOP is competitive in at least 10 states with Senate seats that are held by Democrats today, many of whom are retiring: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia. Minnesota might eventually be added to this list.
Do you think even one GOP nominee in any of these 10 or 11 states will be campaigning on his or her support for Corker-Hoeven? The political tragedy is that they could have done so if the GOP senators who fashioned it hadn’t been mule stubborn about drafting it. The human tragedy is that those in the country waiting for regularization will have to wait years longer because a handful of GOP senators got worked over by Chuck Schumer who prefers a political issue to a real immigration reform law and who successfully bluffed those GOP senators whom he routinely suckers into sitting down at the table yet again.