Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Authoritarians and illegal aliens

 I’m in recurrent training this week, but I wanted to check in with a quick comment on today’s happenings.

One of the big stories of the day was a federal appeals court’s rejection of Donald Trump’s claim of immunity as a defense in the multiple legal proceedings that he is currently facing (although the case was specifically related to January 6). The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that presidents are not above the law in a decision that was no surprise at all.

“It would be a striking paradox if the President, who alone is vested with the constitutional duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,’ were the sole officer capable of defying those laws with impunity,” the court ruled.

black metal frame in grayscale photography
Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash


This decision should not be shocking to anyone who understands that presidents are not kings. In our constitutional republic, the government and its officers are supposed to obey the law, just as average citizens are.

To some extent, we’ve lost that facet of our democracy with government agencies who sometimes flout the law with impunity and government officials who too often see their positions as get-out-of-jail-free cards.

Maybe we needed a case as blatant as Donald Trump’s to remind us of the Framers’ desire that government officials should be citizen politicians, not careerists who run for office for political gain.

The Supreme Court may ultimately decide the presidential immunity case, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they let the lower court’s ruling stand. If the Supreme Court hears the case, I wouldn’t expect a different result because the conservative majority on the high Court’s bench, three of whom were appointed by Trump, are constitutionalists rather than partisans. That is as it should be.


If the presidential immunity ruling wasn’t shocking, the Republican reaction to the immigration bill was. Well, maybe it’s more disappointing than surprising.

At last word, Senate Republicans were threatening to block the strictest immigration bill to have a serious chance of passage in my lifetime. The bill is scheduled for a procedural vote on Wednesday and Republican leaders are coming out against the bill that they helped to negotiate. Passage looks doubtful at this point.

A key Republican complaint is the provision that would allow the president to shut down asylum claims after 5,000 illegal crossings in a day. While this may seem like a large number, under current law asylum claims by illegal border-crossers are unlimited and current levels have been above 5,000 per day since 2021. In that context, 5,000 is much more restrictive than what we currently have.

I have also seen complaints that many asylum claims are rejected. But under current law, requests for asylum have to be investigated and given due process. People who don’t like that aspect of the current law would benefit from a reform bill, but it is these same factions that kill any attempt to reform the current broken system.

There are several likely reasons that Republicans are intent on killing the border security bill. First, Donald Trump is calling for the bill’s defeat because he believes that the border crisis will work against President Biden in the election.

For those who take seriously Trump’s claim that the president already has the authority to shut down the border, I would say, “Ask yourself why Trump didn’t shut down the border when he was president if he had the authority.”

The general consensus is that the president does not currently have the authority to order immediate expulsions, especially since the end of the pandemic necessitated the expiration of Title 42 (the only pandemic emergency measure that Republicans love and want to keep in perpetuity). The second reason for Republicans to kill the bill is that it includes aid to Ukraine. This second reason also points back at Donald Trump and the GOP’s too-cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin.

The Russian dictator is now employing 70-year-old T-55 tanks in Ukraine due to heavy losses over the past two years. Putin’s best chance to hold onto his conquered territory is to have his useful idiots in Congress and Hungary block much-needed supplies for the Ukrainian military.

The irony is that Republicans point the finger at Joe Biden for the loss of Afghanistan (and that is not unfair if only partly true) while they scheme to lose Ukraine, a much more important country on the world stage. Support for Ukraine will be a major issue for me this November.

Finally, Republicans think, as they always do, that if they block the current compromise, they will get everything they want the next time they control the White House and Congress. That has not been true in the last half-century and it won’t be true if Trump ekes out a win this year.

This whole mindset reflects a misunderstanding of the way Congress works. The Senate requires 60 votes to end a filibuster. It is very unlikely that Republicans will have a supermajority anytime soon since the GOP has not had 60 Senate seats since 1911. (The Democrats have had several supermajorities in that time.)

It is far more likely that the Democrats will have enough votes to block a Republican one-party border bill and the system will go on being broken for another few decades and the anti-immigrant right refuses to compromise. But hey, the grifters won’t lack for fundraising and soundbites.

[Removing the filibuster might result in the passage of a bill, but the flip side is that it would be easier for Democrats to undo Republican priorities and enact their own. The filibuster is the congressional equivalent of a get-along shirt.]

The genius of the Republican attacks on the border bill is that the MAGA establishment is persuading Republican voters to work against their own interests. If and when the bill goes down in flames, Republicans will claim victory even though they killed a bill that would have been a large step toward what they have wanted for years.

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READING LIST: The Wall Street Journal has an excellent rundown on what is actually in the bill versus what its opponents claim.

from the Racket News

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