The House of Representatives’ unprecedented series of after-the-fact immigration “hearings” has finally, mercifully, concluded. Pre-empting the standard process for reconciling differences between House and Senate bills, House leaders decreed the Senate immigration bill contrary to the will of the people and, purportedly to prove that dubious assertion, staged some 30-odd “field hearings” around the country.
House leaders claimed a lofty public purpose for the hearings: to engage the American public in a nationwide debate over immigration policy (by spotlighting the Senate bill’s pitfalls). Even when first uttered, however, that claimed purpose rang untrue; now, months later, we all know that it was patently false.
Recall that these same leaders rammed their enforcement-only immigration bill (H.R. 4437) through the House a mere 10 days after the bill was first introduced. No meaningful debate was allowed, no bipartisan alternatives considered and no stakeholder input secured. Ten days to rubberstamp a never-before-seen policy proposal for one of the most complex domestic issues of the day. Where was the call for national debate then?
Isn’t it possible, you might ask, that changed circumstances – for example, millions of people rallying across the country against their bill – really did trigger a change of heart and propel the House to engage the American public?
If so, they sure have a funny way of “engaging.” Instead of a balanced set of hearings encouraging audience participation, the House gave us two months of traveling Kabuki Theater with comically stilted witness lineups, inflammatory hearing titles, simplistic pre-scripted themes and no community input.
So then, why the hearings, why the waste of our time and money? A cynical, but realistic, explanation is that political strategists calling the shots believed that negotiating with the Senate would create a lose-lose dynamic for House Republican candidates in the November elections: Fail to compromise and suffer the charge that Republicans are ineffective, or find a middle ground and get attacked by party hard-liners as supporting amnesty.
Staging hearings certainly accomplished the goal of delaying negotiations. And eschewing pragmatism for ideological fervor may indeed serve the short- term electoral interests of some House Republicans – although most polls indicate that the House approach is unpopular with voters, including most Republicans. But derailing a bona fide opportunity to resolve a pressing domestic policy conundrum will surely cost the nation (and likely the majority party) in the long run.