tradition of unlimited debate in the U.S. Senate, while not a Constitutional
provision, is based on a Senate rule that goes back over a century. It is only the unwieldy size of the U.S.
House of Representatives (435 members) that made such a tradition
impossible. Until just recently, the
rule reflected the basic governing philosophy of the creators of the Constitution, which
was divided government, checks and balances and the avoidance of concentrations
filibuster, which was the embodiment of unlimited debate in the Senate, certainly has been
abused by both political parties depending on which party was in the majority
in the Senate. Suggestions to change the
rule however, have been opposed in the past by prominent politicians of both
parties i.e. former Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and, current Majority Leader
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). Now, Senator
Reid, with the support of the thin Democrat majority in the Senate and the
concurrence of President Obama, has changed the rule to do away with the filibuster
by changing the requirement for ending debate (“cloture”) from sixty votes to
fifty-one, a simple majority.
brought on by the fact that the Democrats did not have the necessary 60 votes
and the Republican minority was not cooperating with respect to the President’s
choices of Cabinet secretaries and federal judges. The Constitution does not demand acquiescence
by the Senate in such nominations. It
specifically requires the “advise and consent” of the Senate to approve those
choices. If the Senate is expected to
automatically approve the President’s nominations then the “advise and consent”
provision of the Constitution has no meaning.
That of course, was clearly understood though most of U.S. history until
Senator Reid’s initiative reside totally in the liberal wing of the Democrat
Party. They argue that a simple majority is a manifestation of “true democracy”
i.e. majority rule. This is the basis of the parliamentary system of government
in which the leader of the majority party in the lower legislative body is
always the chief executive (Prime Minister).
Thus this is a system of one party rule which America’s “founders”
rejected, unless provided by elections to both houses and the presidency.
Although it has occurred occasionally through U.S. history, it represented a
concentration of power which the various requirements for super majorities
off-set. The liberal “wing” actually makes up most of the Democrat Party who
support the President’s nomination of liberal judges for the federal courts,
especially three vacancies on the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of
Columbia Circuit which hears most appeals involving the federal
government. This makes this court the
most important federal court after the Supreme Court. This also makes the importance of the now
defunct cloture rule of sixty votes compatible with the “framers” belief that
issues of great importance should require super-majorities, requiring a
significant portion of the minority which would then demonstrate a higher level
of consensus than just fifty percent plus one.
Constitution makes clear the importance of such a belief. The President, or his delegated
representative, may negotiate and sign treaties with foreign powers but the
Senate must ratify such treaties by a two thirds vote for them to become U.S.
law. The Constitution itself may be
amended but this highly important process requires a two thirds vote in both
houses of Congress and under the usual process, a three fourths concurrence by
of federal officers, including the President and federal judges requires a two
thirds vote in the “trial” portion of the process which occurs in the
Senate. Confirmation of federal judges,
who serve for life, is also a matter of high importance and the super majority
of the previous cloture threshold was entirely appropriate.
Reid and the Democrat majority has done is make an ideologically driven change
of an historic Senate rule for short term gain; short term because the Senate,
and the Presidency will not permanently remain in Democrat hands. The political pendulum will shift but the
nation’s political process will suffer in the long run.
It is now November 2013, and already the political
media has started a speculation and agenda driven “analysis” of the November, 2016
U.S. presidential election. Why? The speculation part is simply what pundits
do for a living, although tiresome to readers and listeners simply interested
in current political news. The agenda part
comes from interest groups, pundits and editorial boards, eager to get a jump
start on the selection process by building momentum for a particular
candidate. Thus the movement to create
an atmosphere of inevitability around the Democrat nomination and election of
Hillary Clinton is in full force. A
“super pac (political action committee)
has been established to raise millions on her behalf and squeeze out the fund
raising efforts of other Democrat candidates who might challenge her. A quasi-official campaign staff of volunteers
is being organized and Hillary, who hasn’t made a public commitment to run, is
traveling the country giving speeches before friendly audiences.
Hillary was also the “inevitable” Democrat nominee
and “next President” in the 2008 elections, until an unconventional young
candidate who matched her ambition and lack of credentials, pushed her aside
and went on to win the nomination and presidency. Besides having thin resume’s, an underlying
theme motivated the most dedicated supporters of both candidates, the notion of
“first”. Hillary was to be the “first”
female President of the United States.
This captivated the imaginations of women young and old who seemed to
see it as some kind of validation of them as equal citizens. To feminists, it
took on the characteristics of a revolutionary movement, not to be denied by
such old fashioned “glass ceiling” concepts like qualifications and ideology. The
thin reasoning offered by the feminists then and now, seems limited to the
notion that a female president would provide an important role model for the
nation’s little girls who could now aspire to that same high office. Of course, the unspoken limitation imposed by
such organizations as the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Feminist
Majority Foundation, and Emily’s List, is that only a liberal Democrat female
president would properly fulfill this role.
Hillary was going to be “the first”, except she
wasn’t. While the Republican well had been poisoned by George Bush’s multi-year
military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the on-set of the “great
recession”, Barack Obama offered his own “first” candidacy which appealed to
the Democrat Left which was already put off by Hillary’s senate vote in support
of the invasion of Iraq. Essentially,
the prospect of the “first woman president” was defeated by the attraction of
the “first black president”. On November
13, 2013 the Washington Post reported that “Guests descended upon the Japanese
Embassy to celebrate (Caroline) Kennedy as the nation’s ‘first female U.S.
envoy’, (ambassador to Japan.) Here is a
woman, noted for nothing besides her relationship to President John F. Kennedy,
who died when she was six years old, and her inherited wealth. She has a law degree but has never practiced,
spending her entire “professional life” lending her famous name to boards and advisory positions of non-profits,
arts and education organizations. While she may be a charming and intelligent
individual (or not), there is nothing in her background that indicates any
knowledge of, or experience with , international relations and diplomacy in
general, or of Japan in particular.
Ambassadorships are commonly awarded to financial and political
supporters of successful presidential candidates as rewards for their
patronage. However, most of these appointments
are to lesser important and socially appealing posts like Caribbean island
nations or European fun spots like Lichtenstein or Luxembourg. Relations with Japan are critical. Japan and China are involved in a serious
conflict over remote islands in the Western Pacific which may have important
oil reserves. The constant tension with the
nuclear armed dictatorship North Korea presents an important regional security
threat which requires continuous and sensitive diplomatic efforts among the
U.S. and regional nations including Japan.
Another highly sensitive diplomatic issue with Japan is U.S. military
basing agreements. This is not the place
for a social/political appointment of an unqualified “first”.
When President Obama decided that Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke would not be reappointed, it became known that his
preferred choice for the position was Lawrence Summers, an esteemed economist,
former President of Harvard University and economic advisor to the
president. However, feminist
organizations immediately started a media campaign to use the vacancy to
achieve the appointment of “the first female” Chair- (man; woman; person) of
the Federal Reserve. The person the
feminist organizations picked was Janet Yellen.
Yellen is indeed qualified. She
has served as the Vice Chairman since 2010 and has a significant professional
background in economics. But her
nomination was promoted on the basis of her being the “first”. Again, no attempt was made to make the
argument that her chromosomal make- up would provide special insights,
competency, or even any policies that differed from either her predecessor or
Summers. The political heat became so
inflated that Summers withdrew his name from consideration and Obama was able
to make the “politically correct” choice necessary to accommodate the “glass
ceiling” crowd. In her recent Senate
confirmation hearings Yellen supported the continuation of Bernanke’s bond
purchase “stimulation” policy which has pumped billions of dollars into the
economy and is becoming increasingly controversial, so expect nothing new.
Although George W. Bush appointed the “first black
female” National Security Adviser who then became the “first black female
Secretary of State”, “firsts” have been mostly the agenda of the Democrats.
While celebrations of “firsts” might be
of interest to cultural historians, few,
if any supporters of individual “firsts” ever explain how the individuals who
actually are the “firsts” are substantively different from others who might
have been elected or appointed. Thus,
the question of appearance out weighing competence always remains below the
More recently, there has been press speculation
about the political attractiveness of New Mexico’s Republican Governor, Susana
Martinez as a potential presidential candidate.
Ms. Martinez is the “first Hispanic female governor” of New Mexico. It was reported that Governor Martinez was
considered for the Vice Presidential nomination by 2012 Republican candidate
Mitt Romney. This would have been a
crass political event of Palin-like proportions, and would have achieved the
same result. Martinez may be an
intelligent and capable politician but there is no question that her electoral
success in generally liberal and heavily Hispanic New Mexico was aided by her
ancestry which in theory is seen by some to be transferable to the national
electorate. However, there is also no question
that her resume’ does not reflect sufficient qualifications for the most
important political office in the world.
She has been governor of New Mexico only since 2011, prior to that she
was a government lawyer. That’s it. Still, the ever pretentious editors of Time
magazine in 2013, named her one of the “100 Most Influential People in the
World”, (along with rapper J-Z). This is
certainly a lofty credential, or would be if anybody took it seriously. New Mexico has just five electoral votes out
of the national total of 538 and a population of just over two million, a
little less than Houston, Texas. Thus,
in spite of Time magazine’s over reach, her selection reflects the unfortunate
devolution of the U.S. electorate into competing groups engaging in “identity
politics”, that is, supporting candidates who share their ethnicity, gender, or
even gender identification , and without close scrutiny of their qualifications
The supporters of “firsts” feed off this tendency
ignoring the down side, one of which is the unfair perception that choice of qualified
candidates and appointees was mostly the result of their “first”
characterization and not their achievements.
Of course, the major down side is the possibility that they are not
qualified at all.
Based on her current resume’, and compared to the
incumbent, Hillary is “qualified “for the office of the presidency. However, in her role as Secretary of State ,after
being sent out of the country for four years by Obama, the state of U.S.
relations with the important nations of the world does not reflect a record of
significant accomplishment on her part.
Relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinians, Russia,
China and even European Union countries, are frayed to poor. Thus there is an important difference between
“qualified” and competent. Obama was
neither, and in spite of his status as a “first” and his success at breaking
the “color barrier” to the White House, the nation is not any better off after his
five years in office in terms of public policy or domestic race relations, or
by any other important measure. Indeed, he may have done a disservice to future
more capable black candidates. By being
the “first”, he may have become the “last”, for the foreseeable future.
And in spite of Hillary’s new and improved
qualifications since 2008, the main justification for her candidacy is still to
be the “first” female president. Such a
rationale without close examination of her public policy vision for the nation
and her views on the proper role of the U.S. in the world will put the country
at risk of another four or even eight years of decline.
Now that the fight over
the extension of the debt limit and the government shut down is over, (until it
starts again in early 2014), President Obama has said he wants to move on and
focus on “comprehensive immigration reform”.
An immigration reform bill actually was passed in the Democrat
controlled Senate (S.-744) in June.
Under ordinary legislative procedures, this bill would be introduced in
the House of Representatives and after the inevitable modifications, it would
go to a Conference Committee of members of both houses for negotiation into one
final bill for votes by both houses.
legislative procedures” seem to be an endangered species; most votes of any
importance in the Senate now require a minimum of 60 supporters instead of 51
to avoid the threat of a filibuster; the “ordinary” annual federal budget
process has been suspended by partisan intransigence and has been replaced by a
series of “continuing resolutions” that simply extend government spending at
existing levels; joint Senate/House
committees like the one that was supposed to avoid the across the board cuts
required by the “sequester”, are stacked
with ideologically intransigent members from both houses which make successful
So what will happen when, or if, the Senate immigration
bill gets to the House? First, the
President, the Democrats, Hispanic advocacy groups and their liberal supporters
have insisted on a “comprehensive” reform bill.
That means they want one huge bill that addresses all the problems with
the current immigration situation and is broad enough to allow the inclusion of
the more permissive aspects of their version of reform.
The House Republicans want to deal with the problems with
a series of bills that address specific issues.
That will allow them to prioritize the reform effort and put border
enforcement at the top of the list.
Democrats are more concerned with the legal assimilation of the 11-14
million illegal aliens currently living in the U.S.
The Senate bill did pass with the support of 14
Republican Senators who were able to negotiate the inclusion of some provisions
that are most important to conservatives in the House. However, the substance of some of these
provisions and the general provisions for establishing a legal status for the
millions of resident illegals will still stimulate significant opposition in
Essentially the broad divisions are between those who are
seeking tougher border enforcement to stem the tide of illegal immigration and
those who are seeking a “path to citizenship” for current illegal
residents. The Senate bill and a similar
one which has been introduced in the House attempts to deal with both
Basically, the path to citizenship creates a new class of
immigrant status, the Registered Provisional Immigrant status for which
illegals may apply if they’ve been in the U.S. continuously prior to December
31, 2011. The application period is for one year but can be extended by the
government. There is a cash penalty fee and those with a criminal history are
RPI status lasts for six years but is also renewable.
After ten years the RPIs can apply for permanent legal resident status under
existing rules. After three years as permanent legal residents, individuals may
apply for citizenship, thus creating a 13 year track to become citizens. During this process the RPIs are not eligible
for Federal benefits including Obamacare.
To satisfy the border security first proponents S. 744
contains the following provisions:
The bill requires an additional 19,200 Border agents be
hired bringing the total to 38,405.
Seven hundred miles of border fence will be installed
The E-Verify system of legal employee identification must
be fully implemented for all employers.
Electronic surveillance, unmanned aircraft, radar
stations and other sensors will be deployed.
Thus S.744 appears to be the most comprehensive attempt
at bi-partisan immigration legislation to date and should provide a strong
basis for the inevitable further negotiations that will come with the House of
Representative’s response. The bill
however, is not without flaws and its authors have also succumbed to the usual
temptation to use the “comprehensive” label to include more than is necessary
to address the primary issues in immigration reform, which will make it more
difficult to reach a final agreement.
The included provisions of the Southern Border Fencing
Strategy and the Southern Border Security Strategy which include the above
requirements, require prompt action on the part of the Secretary of Homeland
Security to establish “plans” for “effective control of the border. These
represent “triggers” which must be accomplished before RPIs may apply for
Lawful Permanent Residence status (green card) on their way to naturalization
i.e. citizenship. However, that is a ten
year process. A Southern Border Security
Commission will be created to make recommendations to achieve these goals if
the Secretary of Homeland Security cannot certify “effective control” of all
borders within 5 yrs.
So is this legislation going to fix the problem of
illegal immigration especially from the southern border? The answer is no. From the Democrats and Hispanic activists
point of view that was never the goal.
Their goal was legalization and a path to citizenship for the eleven
million illegals now living in the U.S. and “reform” in immigration policy to
allow even more immigrants into the country legally. The legislation does both.
The goals of Republicans were first to secure the border
and then find some accommodation with
moderate Democrats, if any could be found, to deal with the existing illegal
immigrant population. In spite of the enhanced security measures required by
the bill, securing a two thousand mile border is a physical impossibility. The
new border patrol agents and new technology will help but the legislation
contains a “hedge” by giving the Secretary of Homeland Security five years to
certify “effective control’ and then the only result of a failure will be
“recommendations” on the part of the Southern Border Commission. Until the incentives for coming into the
country are reduced and penalties assessed for violation of the law, illegal
immigration will continue.
Ironically, the very fact that the current eleven million
may be granted an amnesty including full citizenship benefits, might itself be
a continuing incentive for the next eleven million to come. The legislation actually makes it more
difficult to deport illegal aliens by providing enhanced legal counsel and more discretion for immigration judges to
grant legal status of some kind. De-incentivizing also must include lowering the expectations
of employment. This makes the mandatory
use of E-Verify by employers crucial.
But this is a five year plan with staged implementation.
House Republicans have already introduced several bills
dealing with specific parts of the Senate’s legislation. Clearly they should not simply throw up
non-negotiable road blocks to any reform attempt. S.-744 is far from perfect but political
momentum for doing something is widespread and the political damage that would
follow a simple obstructionist position following the damage done over the
government shut down and debt ceiling fiasco would be significant. The “comprehensive” Senate bill need not be
adopted all at once and the current Republican strategy of passing different
parts of the bill as separate legislation can be followed if the core portions
are seriously dealt with.
The Senate bill includes reform of HB-1 visas which deal
with immigrants who have special skills and request non-permanent
admittance. It also significantly raises
the number of immigrants who would be allowed to enter the U.S. legally under
existing law. These provisions have
nothing directly to do with the border issues or the current illegal immigrant
population and could be considered separately so that they can be considered
after specific analysis and debate.
There is room for toughening up the schedule for
upgrading border enforcement and shortening the schedule for full E-Verify
compliance with penalties included.
The “amnesty” need not include a
“path to citizenship” although this has been the “holy grail” espoused by the
political Left for years. Millions of
immigrants who entered the country legally currently have permanent legal
residence. Rewarding those who entered
illegally is simply a liberal gift and an attempt to add millions to Democrat
Party registration. Nonetheless, House
Republicans should work to produce common sense legislation that serves the
core goals of both parties while looking to the future interests of the nation,
and the reality is that Democrats in the Senate will have to be prepared to
make concessions also if they want to reform immigration policy in 2014.