Just this week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have all presented the identical argument: passing immigration reform will be very difficult because Republicans consider President Obama fundamentally untrustworthy.
The general thrust of the argument is that GOP lawmakers aren’t confident that the Obama administration will enforce federal law, and as such, they don’t want to vote for reform. Even if Congress approves sweeping border-security measures intended to satisfy GOP lawmakers’ demands, they say, Obama, the out-of-control, “lawless” radical, may simply blow off laws (or parts of laws) whenever it strikes his fancy.
It’s a deeply silly posture, based largely on fantasy and this partisan pretenses, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took this one step further yesterday during a notable press briefing.
“When [Republicans] say … they don’t trust the president to do it, why don’t we just pack up and go home?” she said. “We have a democratic system. We have checks and balances. We have three branches of government. In fact, we’re the first in the Constitution – the legislative branch. And what we’re supposed to do is legislate, and not make up excuses as to why we don’t.”“That’s not a reason not to do an immigration bill, that’s an excuse not to do it,” she added. “And around here, you have to always differentiate between what is a reason, and what is an excuse.”
This may have seemed like a throwaway line, uttered in frustration, but Pelosi actually raised a critically important point. If Republicans believe their own rhetoric, why would Congress even show up for work at all?
Pelosi’s response may have sounded flippant, but there’s nothing rhetorical or theoretical about the Republican assertions. If the majority of the House of Representatives is sincere, and GOP lawmakers seriously believe President Obama simply ignores laws whenever he feels like it, and acts unilaterally to impose his will, Constitution be damned, why doesn’t Congress “just pack up and go home”?
Indeed, consider the legislative process over the last month or so. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed appropriations bills, directing the executive branch to finance government operations. But if Republicans don’t trust the president to faithfully execute the laws approved by the legislative branch, why did Congress bother? Why didn’t Republicans balk and declare they would only appropriate funds after Obama had earned their trust?
Soon after, lawmakers in both chambers approved a farm bill, which the Obama administration will now help implement. But if the House GOP is convinced the rascally president ignores laws, why did they vote on the farm bill in the first place?
House Republicans keep voting on all kinds of measures, which would be an odd thing to do if they’re convinced the American system of government has broken down so severely that a lawless White House is prepared to ignore federal laws on a whim.
And therein lies the point: lawmakers keep voting on legislation because they probably don’t seriously believe their own talking points. They’re not genuinely convinced Obama will blow off federal laws, because if they were, they would bother to pass new federal laws.
What’s likely happening is that Republicans may kill immigration reform and they’re afraid to take the blame for their own actions. The “we can’t trust Obama” line is a fig leaf, and a rather transparent one at that.
Of course, if I’m mistaken, and House Republicans genuinely believe they see a president who casually disregards and/or breaks laws he doesn’t like, they can prove their sincerity by stopping the legislative process and beginning impeachment proceedings. But so long as GOP lawmakers continue to legislate, working under the assumption that the executive branch will still execute federal laws, the inanity of the Republican argument on immigration will be increasingly obvious.