Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dems Call Bullshit on House Immigration Hearing

Today I went to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration, held in Concord, New Hampshire, really to get a first in-person look at Charlie Bass, who currently fails to represent me in Congress and who was, shockingly enough, included at the hearing despite not being on the relevant committee (nothing political here, though, move along). But Charlie turned out not to be the story for me. Instead, what struck me (repeatedly, hard) was how hard the Democrats on the committee were fighting Republican tricks-playing.

So why was there hearing on immigration in a state with as few immigrants as New Hampshire?

The Yankee Doodler has already highlighted an AP story asking those questions prior to the hearing:

Critics questioned why New Hampshire - which has few immigrants - was chosen to host a hearing. They also asked why hearings were needed since both bills already have passed.

"This is just a normal congressional committee hearing," [spokesman for James Sensenbrenner, R-WI] Lungren said.

He was less able to explain why New Hampshire was picked. "Basically I don't have a good reason for exactly why New Hampshire, other than we're having them all across the country."

Not only was the placement of the hearing politicized, so was its title, which referred to the "Reid-Kennedy Amnesty Bill" - the heading on the press release referred to the "staggering costs" of the bill. So as I entered the hearing a few minutes late today, I was glad to hear Marty Meehan (MA-05) hammering on both those points, insisting that the hearing was an inappropriate substitute for negotiation between the House and Senate to reconcile their two immigration bills, and detailing the bipartisan nature of the supposed "Reid-Kennedy" bill, the sponsors of which actually include Specter and McCain.

Throughout the hearing Meehan and fellow Democrats William Delahunt (MA-10) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20) kept up that refrain in a way that would almost make you question all those accusations that Democrats these days lack spines or message discipline. It was actually pretty inspiring.

There were five witnesses, ranging ideologically from really, really hating illegal immigrants (many of whom are apparently murderers seeking to adopt new identities and become legal under the proposed amnesty) to thinking that it would be a good thing if children of illegal immigrants were able to get good, consistent medical care. Each had 5 minutes of testimony, followed in theory by questions from the committee members but in practice by argument from said committee members.

This is where the Democrats hit hard. Each took on specific questions relating to the testimony that had been given, but also continually brought into question the motivation for the hearing itself. Meehan questioned the decision to hold hearings around the country, arguing that it is unprecedented for the House and Senate to both pass bills and then, rather than going into conference, to hold hearings. He suggested that Republicans are making border enforcement and immigration issues appear more difficult than they are in order to build them up as election issues.

Delahunt, again noting that committee members should not be at a hearing in New Hampshire but in Washington in conference with the Senate, said that President Bush had called Mexican President Vicente Fox to say that there was no hope of legislation being passed just now. With Republicans controlling the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, he said, such delay tactics are clearly to secure political advantage. But what political advantage specifically? He dismissed the notion that the hearing might be being held in NH to pressure Senator Gregg to come over to the view of House Republicans, suggesting instead that it was probably about New Hampshire's two competitive House races, which was why the Democrats would be holding a press conference to follow the hearing.

Wasserman Schultz followed up by discussing a chart Delahunt had introduced which showed three ways in which border and immigration enforcement under Clinton had exponentially outstripped it under Bush. She argued that the Republican administration and Congress had had the opportunity to get the job done but instead were just talking about it, then pointed out that the "staggering cost" of the Senate bill - $127 billion over 10 years - was about 1/3 of what has already been spent in Iraq, questioning whether the Republicans were really saying that that amount of money was not worth spending to solve a major issue critical to national security and many other areas of concern.

In a second round of questions/statements from the committee members, the Democrats continued to just pound away at these themes, with Wasserman Schultz also introducing the question of why New Hampshire Congressmen Bass and Bradley had voted against enhanced border security 10 times.

(Bass, who I was after all there to see, gave a brief and fairly content-free statement, which I imagine is largely similar to his Union Leader op-ed. My major impression of him was that he looks like an unsuccessful accountant in a cheap suit, and appeared to be incredibly bored most of the time, except when Bradley arrived and they started whispering together. Nothing much to report about him.)

At the end of the hearing, I was just looking around at the crowd, trying to see if there were visible contingents of people concerned with the issue (for instance, I saw one SEIU t-shirt, and one in a Legalize the Irish t-shirt), when Dana Houle, Paul Hodes' campaign manager, beckoned me over to where the Democrats were holding a press conference in the next room.

Well, that was fun. They'd been pretty forceful in the hearing, but in the press conference were even more so.

They again raised the question of why "our friends in New Hampshire" talk about support for border enforcement while the record of their votes belies such support, presenting a chart detailing Bass and Bradley's votes against enforcement and suggesting that either Bass and Bradley had to explain a rationale for those votes or answer the question of whether they were marching in lockstep with Republican leadership.

Asked about the politics of the hearings, Meehan said they were a "dumb idea." The Republicans have control of the government and yet have failed to pass legislation, and are now engaging in hearings which are dumb politically, having drawn negative editorials in several places, and dumb procedurally, costing taxpayer money to put on. A rather argumentative questioner followed up, asking if the Democrats were not playing politics by holding this press conference and using it to question the records of Bass and Bradley. Meehan and Wasserman Schultz answered forcefully, pointing out that they would not have been there if the Republicans had not set up the hearing, that they were doing their jobs as committee members in attending but also that as Democrats they would not allow the political ploy to go unanswered.

As Wasserman Schultz said, "we don't believe in unilateral disarmament if that's what you're asking."

And that's what was inspiring about today: sometimes it seems like Democratic officials do believe in unilateral disarmament. Today, they didn't, and they kicked ass at it. They kicked ass on the specifics of immigration, they kicked ass on the political game-playing of the fact that this hearing was held at all, and they kicked ass on the specific races that were clearly being targeted by holding Bass and Bradley's records up to the light.


Blogger yankeedoodler said...

THANK YOU for an outstanding account of what I would otherwise have to look in the local MSM for (and you know how they can spin...)

9:54 PM  
Blogger Keener said...

"Asked about the politics of the hearings, Meehan said they were a "dumb idea." The Republicans have control of the government and yet have failed to pass legislation..."

Geez, xxx out "the hearings" and you could mad-libs this into three dozen things wrong about the Repubs...How long till they realize they are the majority?

10:35 PM  
Blogger DavidNYC said...

Damn! Score one for Wasserman-Schultz and the Dems! Damn straight we don't believe in unilateral disarmament! And kudos to Schultz for trekking all the way up from Florida during the recess.

This is a great report, Laura. Thank you so much for going.

10:39 PM  

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