To the delight of conservationists, President Obama yesterday designated New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a national monument, protecting nearly 500,000 acres. The area “has petroglyphs from three Native American societies in its canyons, along with desert grasslands and a petrified forest. It is filled with wildlife including antelope, deer, falcons and mountain lions.”
Republican complaints were predictable, but it was the nature of their concerns that seemed noteworthy. The conservative Washington Times, for example, said the monument designation may “doom” the White House’s hopes of passing immigration reform.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said the president’s unilateral move is exactly the type of action the GOP has been warning against, adding it shows the president isn’t serious about enforcing border security. […]“The president’s announcement today intensifies those concerns, demonstrating a level of audacity that is remarkable even for this administration,” the Ohio Republican said. “Once again, the president has chosen to bypass the legislative branch – and, in this case, do so in a manner that adds yet another challenge in our ongoing efforts to secure our southern border.”
To argue that the president “bypassed the legislative branch” is, at a minimum, misleading. It was the legislative branch that passed the Antiquities Act, empowering the executive branch the legal authority to designate national monuments. Obama had no reason to seek Congress’ permission to act on a power a previous Congress already endorsed.
But on a more substantive level, Speaker Boehner appears to be raising a concern about border security with no basis in reality.
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection explained that the designation “will in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission,” adding the the new policy actually “provides important flexibility as we work to meet this ongoing priority.”
In fact, the Speaker’s office might have missed it, but the proclamation itself issued by the White House was fairly explicit on this point:
Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to affect the provisions of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding “Cooperative National Security and Counterterrorism Efforts on Federal Lands along the United States’ Borders.”
All of which raises the obvious question: why would Boehner make this claim if it doesn’t appear to be true? It’s certainly possible the Speaker and his aides are simply confused.
But it’s just as likely, if not more so, that Boehner is still looking for ways to blame the White House for Republicans’ refusal to even vote on an immigration-reform plan. Unfortunately for the GOP and its leadership, the effort doesn’t appear to be going well.