The push and pull of Washington politics too often comes across as zero-sum nonsense, alienating Americans who want to care. That’s how it must look to much of the country and especially to residents of Texas, who are struggling with an immigration crisis of mounting proportions.
It places into stark relief such silly ploys as Speaker John Boehner’s vow to rally the House to pass legislation allowing it to sue President Barack Obama to force him to “follow his oath of office and faithfully execute the laws of our country.”
Even quoting from Boehner’s rationale gives this silly idea more credit than it’s due. That it should come from a leader of a Republican Party that has fought nuisance lawsuits and activist courts for decades offers a new rung on the irony ladder.
If Boehner and congressional Republicans had exhausted all constitutional measures, that might be one thing. But it’s far from the case.
It’s true that a frustrated Obama has pledged to skirt Congress and unilaterally order more “pen and phone” action on areas up to and including our broken immigration system. But Boehner has better tools than a grandstanding lawsuit to make an impact.
The speaker need look only as far as the Rio Grande to see how this should work. Obama may want to move beyond Congress on immigration reform, but the crisis at the border demands more than he can order on his own.
The president, in fact, has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and Border Patrol agents to respond to a flood of more than 50,000 children braving the long trek from Central America.
It’s up to the House, with its power of the purse, to approve this appropriation. Boehner can block legislation from reaching the House floor, if he chooses, or use his political skills to influence the bill. But he also knows that Republicans, if they block the president on this, must offer something of their own or face significant political fallout.
Obama missed an opportunity to give the crisis heightened attention Wednesday, when he met in Dallas with Gov. Rick Perry instead of along the Rio Grande. In the same way a president makes a point in visiting a community devastated by a hurricane or tornado, Obama could have focused the nation’s attention here. It’s how presidents show leadership.
Another way is to work with leaders from the opposing party. Obama argues that the GOP leaves him no choice. Republicans argue that he enforces only the laws he likes. Obstructionists, he seethes. Lawless president, they shout back. And on it goes, each side aiming to score political points, with real solutions getting lost in the process.
You might be too young to remember when divided governance still worked in America, with no lawsuits needed. If all else failed, we looked to the elections always around the corner, voters’ chance to hire new leadership. This is how our system was designed to work — and still could.