President Donald Trump crafted a three-week shutdown reprieve on Friday. In the aftermath, there was a crossfire of analysis of who won and who lost. But unlike previous shutdowns, the underlying disagreement keeping government workers hostage was entirely fabricated on both sides. Clearly, politics have reached a new low.
This was a substance-free catastrophe.
“Immigration has been reduced to the point where it does not provide the stimulus to growth that it should, nor are we fulfilling our obligation as a haven for the oppressed.” That may sound like a quote from a congressional Democrat, but it’s actually a quote from the 1960 Republican Party Platform. Two decades later, the nominating conventions that propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House both endorsed planks extending traditional American hospitality to immigrants. And Reagan himself signed a bill in 1986 providing a form of amnesty to immigrants in the United States without green cards.
“I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think that you have to control your borders.” That sounds like a talking point from a Republican politician trying to fend off a primary challenge from his right flank. But it’s actually a 2015 quote from Hillary Clinton. Two decades earlier, in her first campaign for Senate, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein attacked her Republican opponent in an ad by arguing: “While Congressman Huffington voted against new border guards, Dianne Feinstein led the fight to stop illegal immigration.”
If your head is spinning, don’t be ashamed. While previous shutdowns centered on real ideological debates, the frightening thing here is that both parties have taken both sides of the border issue as recently as a few years ago.
The whole conflagration is staggering. In 2013, Democrats, including current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, endorsed a comprehensive immigration billthat required the construction of 700 miles of border fencing. Today, Democrats won’t even allow Trump to put a down payment on additional barriers. Former Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, complained after a White House meeting not long ago that: “We are talking about everything but doing something for the DACA kids (Dreamers). I would vote for a path to citizenship, which isn’t easy, but I would do it just as an effort.” Today, Republicans are labeling any relief for those brought to the U.S. as children as “amnesty.”
Dems, GOP both believe in border security
Here’s the reality: Both political parties believe in border security; no one seriously thinks people from other countries should be able to traipse into the United States unannounced. As recently as early 2018, Senate Democrats offered to give the Trump administration $25 billion, if the president would agree to provide the Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship. And neither side thinks the specific means of securing the border — whether it’s a wall or a fence or drones, whatever — is worth a government shutdown. In the fall of 2017, when the Trump administration was asking for a mere $1.6 billion for the wall, USA TODAY surveyed all 292 members of the House Republican majority to see where they stood. Only 69 expressed support.
This is political brinksmanship as third-rate kabuki theater — and it’s the worst possible show. Government should be about addressing authentic challenges, not gambling on ways to drive a party’s approval ratings up or down. It would be one thing if Democrats and Republicans were fighting about an issue on which they were ideologically at odds. But they’re not — and the American people paid the price.
This all points to a broader question. If our leaders are willing to shut down the entire federal government over a rounding error in the federal budget (and may again in three weeks), how can we expect them to resolve the much more difficult challenges ahead? The sad answer is that we can’t. It’s time for our leaders to prove that they’re capable of addressing tough issues once more. We need Washington to get its head in the game. And i’’s up to us, Americans, to demand that those representing us live up to the honor of the offices we elected them to fill.
(Author Nancy Jacobson is a founder of the nonprofit organization No Labels. You can follow the organization on Twitter: @NoLabelsOrg.)
(House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on December 11, 2018. Photo: Brendan Smialowski, AFP-Getty Images)