The Silence of the Shams

By Dan Cadman, May 1, 2017

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) recently published an assessment of the president's first 100 days in office, as have many other organizations, pundits, and media outlets.

One of the things that several of those other assessments have in common is to fault the president for a relatively sparse record on legislation passed. Although it's true that there hasn't been much — which is deeply distressing in the arena of immigration matters given the great abundance of excellent past bills that have been bottled up in Congress waiting, waiting, waiting to be acted on — I find it somewhat amusing that the president is taking the hit for the dearth of legislation.

First, such analyses miss the obvious point that the president is head of the executive, not the legislative, branch. Of course, such confusion may perhaps be forgiven after the last eight years in which President Obama seemed to conflate those roles by viewing the legislative branch as little more than a rubber stamp. In essence, he nullified its existence by simply going around it with imperial decrees masked as "executive action" — and Congress quietly acquiesced. It was not a shining period in our constitutional history and may someday be the subject of a publication with a title much akin to that of our present National Security Advisor's book, Dereliction of Duty, about the failings of the national security apparatus during the Vietnam war.

Second, those other assessments that lay blame at the president's door for the poor legislative record overlook the fact that although Donald Trump may be the titular head of the Republican Party, there is abundant evidence that any number of traditional Republican conservatives think of him as an apostate, and are engaged in a quiet game of passive resistance. It seems to me that they resent his "takeover" of the party, and will be perfectly content to see him fail and disappear from public life after a one-term presidency, after which they can get on with their notion of the serious business of governing. Thus they do not openly fight, but simply get nothing done. To name just a few immigration-related examples: appropriations to fund for the border wall, or alternatively to pay for it through remittance taxes or seized cartel monies; money to pay for the new Border Patrol and interior enforcement agents; legislation to make clear that no grant monies will go to any sanctuary jurisdiction; and passage of substantive enforcement measures like the Davis-Oliver bill, now going on two years old.

The problem with this strategy of passive resistance, and permitting congressional rules to ensure that bills get bottled up (as if they don't control the rule-making and amending) is that these traditionalists don't seem to understand that they are creating a self-inflicting wound that will almost certainly redound to their deficit as well. It's like a football team that has only a defensive game. If you don't know what to do when you have the football, you most assuredly can't win; the best you can do, and this in the end is unlikely, is fight to a stalemate.

The public is unlikely to put up with that forever. If there is doubt about where the midterms are going, then perhaps it's time the Republican Congress got off its collective duff and started going about the business, its only business, of passing laws consistent with the will of the people, which is certainly very clear where immigration is concerned. Public approval of Trump's immigration positions, after all, is one of the clear and singular reasons why he is now head of the Republican Party.