A Really Futile and Stupid Gesture on DACA

The 'Animal House' approach to legislation

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 28, 2018

In a recent post, I described the "queen of the Hill" resolution that was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) to debate DACA legislation, and the discharge petition that has been filed by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) to bring that resolution to the floor over the objections of House leadership.

News that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate majority leader, has little to no intention of bringing any resulting legislation to the floor of the upper chamber logically brought to mind the 1978 classic Animal House.

To briefly summarize the film, a fraternity of misfits (the fictional Delta Tau Chi house) attend an elite college in the early 1960s. The dean of the school views the house as a disgrace, and endeavors to have the brothers expelled, which he ultimately does. In retribution, the Delta Tau Chi brothers plot an elaborate scheme to disrupt the school's homecoming parade, resulting in mayhem.

Animal House has been a part of American culture since it was released almost 40 years ago, and certain quotes have become shorthand for specific situations, but one in particular has significant resonance in the discharge drama. To set the scene, the brothers have learned of their expulsion and are debating whether to respond. The house Lothario (Otter) takes the floor, supported by the house slob (Bluto), in this exchange from IMDB:

Otter: No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part!

Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.

Which returns me to Reps. Denham and Curbelo. Needless to say, in order for any bill to become law at the federal level, it must pass both houses of Congress, and be signed by the president (unless there are enough votes to override a presidential veto). News reports indicate, however, that even if the two are successful in getting legislation out of the House, it will be a "really futile and stupid gesture" that will likely go nowhere.

The president has been somewhat inconsistent in his recent statements on his demands in exchange for a DACA amnesty, but the latest news reports indicate that the president wants a "real wall" as well as unspecified "very strong border security" in return. I have previously speculated about the parameters of such terms, but the president is somewhat mercurial, and (as the recent North Korean talks have demonstrated) has a tendency to make new demands in the middle of the debate.

Only one of the bills under consideration in the resolution (Rep. Goodlatte's "Securing America's Future Act" or "SAFA") comes close to fitting the president's requirements. That legislation, however, reportedly faces significant opposition in the House, and certainly under the discharge process. Such actions give tremendous power to the Democratic minority, and Democrats (and some Republicans) oppose SAFA, as National Review has explained, because it does not provide a path to citizenship for the DACA class.

That article notes, correctly, that the likely winner under the Denham/Curbelo scheme is the USA Act, sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). That bill does not provide funding for a wall, however, and its border security measures are limited. Taking the president at his word, that legislation likely faces a veto.

All of this comes at a point when, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he has no intention of spending limited Senate time on an immigration bill that does not have the president's support. That article continues:

"Honestly, I've spent a week on this, as you recall, in February," Mr. McConnell said. "I couldn't find a consensus in the Senate."

Mr. McConnell left the door open to reconsidering an immigration measure, but only if Mr. Trump indicated he supported it.

"If the House passed a bill that the president was for — in other words I thought there was a chance of actually making a law — I'd consider it," Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Trump has said legal protections for Dreamers must be paired with tighter border security, including funding for a wall and other steps to tighten immigration rules.

A particularly politically savvy member of Congress once told me, when Donald Trump was running for president: "The thing you have to remember is, the guy is always negotiating." That may be true with respect to the president's statements on DACA legislation, but the fact is that for whenever faults he may have, the president is a keen political operator with a sense of the electorate, and has also been fairly consistent (at least in the past) with respect to the conditions for his assent to a DACA amnesty.

Given these facts, it is not entirely clear what the end game is for Reps. Denham and Curbelo and their supporters. Avoiding tough votes on controversial issues is the main benefit of being in the majority, and of ensuring that a party's majority continues.

The discharge petition will present most Republicans with two options, neither good: Either cast a vote for a costly amnesty that is unlikely to be signed by the president or brought up in the Senate, or cast a vote for a bill that has strong enforcement provisions, but that may not pass.

Under the latter scenario, many in the mainstream media and Democratic opponents will argue that the member does not care about "children", even though, according to FactCheck.org in January 2018: "The average age of DACA recipients was 25 years old last year."

Under the former, as Politico reported, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "warned centrist Republicans" that "their effort to force votes on immigration could cost the party its House majority and empower Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi." That article explained:

Passing a bipartisan immigration bill that the base hates, McCarthy argued, would depress Republican turnout, and possibly cost the party the House.

GOP "intensity levels are still not there, and discharge petitions release the power of the floor that the American people gave us the responsibly to hold," McCarthy said, according to the source present. "When you release that power, the majority goes to Nancy."

Not to ruin the movie for those who have not seen it, but Animal House concludes with a coda that reveals that notwithstanding their pranks (most of which are dangerous felonies, not to be a killjoy), the Delta Tau Chi brothers all go on to success. The same is unlikely to be said for Reps. Denham, Curbelo, and their supporters.

Their efforts appear to be focused on garnering votes in a challenging election cycle by playing to what they view as "centrist" and minority voters. As my colleague Mark Krikorian has recently explained, however, according to a new poll: "Jeff Denham's Hispanic Constituents Don't Want His Amnesty". And politically, voters do not generally give points to politicians who aim to please, but fail.

The late humorist Will Rogers once famously stated: "I am not a member of any organized political party — I am a Democrat." Unless leadership cracks down soon and averts a discharge petition, the first part of that quip will be true of the Republican members of the People's House.