After several minutes of telling the combined editorial boards of the Deseret News and KSL why she decided to defy her party leadership and attempt to force a vote on a bill to protect the children of undocumented immigrants, Mia Love felt the need to add, “You can tell this is something, obviously, I feel frustrated about.”
Frustration is nothing new in Washington. Way back in 1910, it was the emotion responsible for the House procedure she is attempting, known as a discharge petition. Through it, members of the House can force a bill from the clutches of a speaker and onto the floor for a vote.
But because frustration, even in Washington, rarely rises to a level equal to the fear of political retaliation, the discharge is considered radical.
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Maybe those days are changing. Maybe, if this succeeds, bipartisan factions in Congress will unite to force solutions to the budget deficit, reform entitlements or direct the FDA to allow more research on the medicinal effects of marijuana. Is this the dawning of a brilliant new day?
Don’t hold your breath.
Between 1931 and 2003, 563 such petitions were filed, according to the Congressional Research Service. Only three resulted in laws.
Love, a Republican, represents Utah’s fourth congressional district. House Speaker Paul Ryan was her assigned mentor when she first entered Congress. Defying him “is not something you want to do. It’s kind of difficult,” she said.
But there are a couple of reasons it may not be so much of a risk. Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was once referred to by Politico.com as “an asset worth protecting for the Republican Party.” It would make little sense to retaliate against her during an important election year.
Another reason other Republicans may take courage is that protecting the children of undocumented immigrants is a popular notion.
As Chicago Tribune editorial writer Steve Chapman wrote recently, a failure to pass a permanent Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, “is stark evidence of the mind-numbing irrationality and dysfunction of our system of government.” He cited an ABC News/Washington Post poll in January that found 87 percent of Americans in support of such a program.
Many Americans, it seems, would not be too upset to see someone shake loose a bill for a vote. We will know, soon after the House reconvenes June 5, whether the effort succeeds.
At its heart, this is a fight over procedures and the Constitution. Love’s opponent this fall, Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, has noted that Love opposed President Obama when he issued the order creating DACA three years ago. But she said that had more to do with executive over-reach than the issue itself.
Certainly, presidents have become too cozy with the idea of trying to circumvent Congress. But when it comes to failing to pass immigration reform, Congress has only itself to blame.
President Trump overturned Obama’s executive order creating DACA, giving Congress until March 5 to pass something substantive in its place. But then a federal court struck down Trump’s action, and nothing has happened since.
History may not neatly repeat itself, but it does sometimes echo. Back in 1910, the House was in the grips of one of its strongest and, according to some accounts, most disliked speakers, Rep. Joseph G. Cannon, R-Ill. He had been an ardent foe of fellow Republican President Teddy Roosevelt. Republicans seemed divided and in disarray.
It was against this familiar backdrop that Congress rebelled against Cannon by imposing, among other things, the discharge method. In its current form, if more than half the members of the House sign a petition, it forces a vote on a measure despite the speaker’s displeasure.
Perhaps the frustrations of that earlier age, when invention, prosperity and national confidence seemed to defy political divisions, will help solve a vexing problem in our day.
But again, don’t hold your breath.
A DACA bill still would need to pass the Senate and earn a presidential signature. As with the dawning of that elusive brilliant new day, hoping for the end to frustrations can be frustrating, indeed.