Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Homeland Security funding a test of GOP's political maturity

Back in November, after the Republican Party claimed control of both chambers of Congress, Mitch McConnell assured us that the party would finally demonstrate to the American people that it is capable of the hard work of governing. As a test of that political maturity, he offered a promise: Whatever happened, the Department of Homeland Security would not be shut down in a fight over immigration policy.

The Department of Homeland Security is three days from shutting down in a fight over immigration policy.

If a funding bill can't be passed through both the Republican House and Republican Senate and then signed by President Obama by Friday, non-essential DHS personnel would be sent home. GOP leaders reassure us that the impact won't be too bad, because essential DHS personnel, particularly those in law enforcement, would still report to work. However, they would be expected to do so without pay.

Think about that: Essential government employees would still be doing their job, in some cases putting their lives on the line they would just do so without a paycheck. Meanwhile, members of Congress who had proved incapable of doing the most basic part of their jobs? Their paychecks would still keep coming. Funny how that works.

The House GOP is forcing the standoff as a way to protest President Obama's policy of deferred prosecution for certain groups of illegal immigrants, most notably those who were brought here as small children and have been raised in this country. Republican congressmen are refusing to fund DHS unless the president agrees to end that program and resume the forced deportation of the so-called dreamers.

That simply is not going to happen.

However, there are other options. Last week, a federal judge friendly to the GOP put Obama's policy on temporary hold, a step that the administration is appealing. If the GOP were confident in the legal merits of its argument, the smart thing to do would be to would fund DHS and let those legal merits play out in court. Nothing would drive home their point better than having a final judgment from the legal system that President Obama had overstepped the constitutional bounds of his authority.

But even that  prospect isn't enough to break the logjam.

Compounding the irony, the GOP position is doomed and everyone knows it is doomed. A large majority of Americans -- and even a majority of Republicans -- have repeatedly told pollsters that they reject the GOP's position and want some way to bring those 11 million immigrants out of the shadows and into the light, where they can live and work legally and even attain citizenship. Sooner or later, that's going to be the outcome of all this; the only question is how much damage the GOP will do to itself, the country and immigrant families in the meantime.

Many of those with a realistic chance at the GOP presidential nomination understand that quite well. Sen. Marco Rubio was a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would give those immigrants a pathway to citizenship. Jeb Bush is also a supporter of "amnesty." Even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the current heartthrob of conservatives, has expressed repeated support as far back as 2002 for so-called "amnesty".

Of course, Walker has since attempted to deny that position, in one case claiming that he had been misquoted until a videotape emerged of his statement. Caught in that deception, he now argues instead that his position has changed and that he steadfastly opposes amnesty.

As Eliana Johnson describes it in National Review:

"Whether rank-and-file Republicans will buy (Walker's reversal) is another question, but they are certainly hungry for a viable challenger to the establishment pick. As a result, they may prove forgiving of past ideological indiscretions so long as Walker is toeing the line now."


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.