We had hoped that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress would restore some constitutional order and common sense to the federal government, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. This week Democratic discipline and Republican defections doomed an effort to block the president’s executive orders on illegal immigration, and despite a few defections of their own the Democrats were able to sustain a presidential veto on bill to at long last allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If the Republicans can’t win on these issues, it’s hard to see how they’ll ever score a victory.
There is little public enthusiasm for offering amnesty and work permits and government benefits to millions of illegal immigrants, thus inviting millions to cross the border, and even less for the unprecedented presidential power that is bringing it about. The only opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline comes from a relatively small group of radical environmentalists, who seem to believe that the planet will somehow be better off if Canada’s oil is refined in China rather than America, and the president’s veto of the project is part of a broader effort to raise energy prices that is also unpopular. Two better opportunities to confront the president might not come along soon, even if the president does have a knack for proposing unpopular policies and seems to grow even less concerned about public opinion the nearer he gets to the end of his second term, so the losses are especially discouraging.
Buoyed by public opinion and prodded by his party’s conservative base, the usually timid House Speaker John Boehner managed to pass a bill that would deny funding to the Department of Homeland Security to carry out the executive orders, and the usually timid Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell made an effort to get it passed in the Senate, but it all came to naught. The Democrats used the same filibuster rules they had decried until the Republicans took control of the Senate, threatening a shutdown of the entire department, and although one would expect the Democrats to be blamed for making such a dire threat, especially for the sake of an unpopular policy being enacted through unpopular means, enough Republicans panicked to force capitulation and cough up a full year of funding. The Republicans’ nervousness is understandable, given the scathing press coverage that always accompanies the word “shutdown,” and some of the ones who bolted represent districts that include a large share of Latino voters, or simply pay too much attention to the newspapers that are still peddling the notion that inviting in millions of illegal immigrants to sign up as Democrats is a smart political move for the Republicans, but the issue was worth some risk and might even have been winnable. That House bill would have funded all the department’s necessary work against terrorism, and it was the Democrats who would have shut it down rather than refuse funding for the executive orders, and it’s always possible the public would have been made to understand that despite the best efforts of the press.
Alabama’s stalwart Sen. Jeff Sessions has vowed to continue the fight by whatever legislative means present themselves, and we’re sure that at least he will do so, and there’s always a chance that the court ruling against the executive order will be upheld, although we’re not at all sure the courts will ever again do the right thing, so perhaps some sort of victory can be achieved down the road. For now, though, the president wins again.
He managed to win on the Keystone veto, too, although seven Democrats who are facing re-election in states where the oil industry is prominent felt more responsive to public opinion and joined the Republicans. Even when they’re vote the Democrats were able to muster the 35 votes needed to sustain the veto, which is a testimony to the party’s ability to keep members in line. When the Democrats are willing to back their president on even such a damned fool idea as blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, the chances of overriding any other vetoes are not good. There is some speculation that they might do it with a bill imposing economic sanctions on Iran, but we wouldn’t bet against the president winning yet again. There is great public support for Israel, whose Prime Minister just this week defied the president by asking Congress to impose the sanctions as a means of ending its nuclear weapons program, but Israel will never be as popular as cheap gasoline.
The Republicans’ conservative base is once again clamoring for new leadership in both the House and Senate, and they’re probably right to do so, but the Democrats should also be getting some pressure from the public. President Barack Obama need no longer care what the people think, but almost everyone in Congress will eventually be up for re-election can’t afford to be so openly disdainful of public opinion. Whoever the Republicans choose for their leaders, they’ll need to be a bit more persuasive to at least a few more Democrats who are bound to be at least a bit nervous about where the president is leading them.
— Bud Norman