Congress gave itself another week-long break last week, and members returned to Capitol Hill facing some critically important deadlines. Even putting aside the fact that House Republicans are struggling to choose their own leaders, the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money next week, and to avoid default, lawmakers will have to raise the debt ceiling in just 13 days.
But instead of tackling this real and important work, the Senate yesterday decided to waste a little time with an anti-immigrant gambit that everyone knew in advance would fail. MSNBC’s Amanda Sakuma reported:
Senate Democrats stonewalled a bill on Tuesday that would have stripped funding to so-called sanctuary cities and established stiff prison sentences to certain undocumented immigrants. The action comes as a major roadblock in the GOP crusade to tighten enforcement on immigration laws.In a 54-45 vote largely along party lines, Republicans failed to clear a procedural hurdle on legislation targeting cities that do not cooperate with federal officials in deporting undocumented immigrants from their communities.
The final roll call is online here. Note, proponents of the far-right measure needed 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and they weren’t particularly close. One Republican who’s worried about his re-election – Illinois’ Mark Kirk – even broke ranks and joined the Democratic opposition.
But the underlying question is arguably the most interesting part of this: why in the world did the Senate waste valuable time on this when it has important work to do?
The answer has everything to do with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).
Vitter, despite his scandals and troubled record, remains a powerful figure in his home state of Louisiana, where he’s running for governor and was assumed to be the frontrunner. Recent polling, however, suggests the far-right senator isn’t quite as popular as he’d hoped among Louisianans, and his success in the gubernatorial race is in doubt for the first time.
And so Senate Republicans did Vitter a favor, bringing up a pointless bill that Vitter has championed. The Washington Post reported yesterday morning, before the vote:
Vitter wants a mandatory minimum prison sentence for anyone who reenters the U.S. after being deported. Some conservatives express concerns about requiring longer jail terms when they’re pushing for broad-based criminal justice reform. But [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] has bypassed the committee process and is bringing up a consolidated version of three separate bills, including Vitter’s, for a Senate floor vote. The bill is doomed, but this approach lets Republican leaders blame Democrats for filibustering it.Vitter touted his push in a floor speech [Monday] night, and his office churned out three press releases during a six-hour period [Monday] afternoon. “Vitter is nothing if not skilled at making these races about something other than him,” said LSU Professor Robert Mann, who was state director for ex-Sen. John Breaux (D-La.).
In fairness, this is hardly the first time a senator running for another office has received a hand with a pointless show-vote.
But in this case, the Senate really does have far more important priorities than helping one member’s gubernatorial campaign. For that matter, it’s never been clear to me why the outcome benefits Vitter in the first place. He championed a far-right bill; he failed to persuade enough of his colleagues to support his bill; and now his legislation is dead.
Are voters supposed to see this as proof of Vitter’s prowess as an elected official?