Tags: Immigration | Paul Ryan | Supreme Court | co equal branch | burke | house bill | house

Congress Tries Winning Popularity at Expense of 'Dreamers'

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In Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3, 3017, Protesters held signs in front of the White House. They are against President Trump's policies, and they spoke in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the DREAM Act. (3000ad/Dreamstime)

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Tuesday, 06 March 2018 12:55 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Congress, the presidency, and the U.S. Supreme Court were designed to be co-equal branches of our government, but Congress seems to have forgotten this fact.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., drew little criticism when he announced that he would only support Dreamer legislation that President Trump agreed in advance to sign.

But if he had announced he would wouldn't let the House vote on a bill unless the Supreme Court promised to rule it constitutional, it would have amazed everybody. This stance would not merely ignore the tradition that federal courts won't issue advisory opinions.

It would imply that the Supreme Court is superior to Congress.

Waiting for presidential approval makes no more sense here, especially with a president like Donald Trump. His erratic behavior — promising to support legislation but, hours later, pulling back and opposing it — makes waiting for him an exercise in frustration.

Since Congress can't determine where he stands, and Trump himself often seems ambivalent, it makes no sense to wait to vote on Dreamers legislation, or anything else, until Congress finds out what he wants.

Of course Speaker Ryan may simply be using Trump's indecisiveness as an excuse for not allowing Congress to do anything at all about the Dreamers. Politicians often invoke principles in a highly unprincipled way. But if this is Ryan's game, he should be warned that principles have side effects and can come back to haunt people who invent them too freely to justify particular decisions. The House should not let him get away with an approach which implicitly assumes that Congress is an inferior branch of the government.

Congress should resume acting like a fully co-equal branch, and not just on Dreamer legislation. It should draft a Dreamer rescue following traditional due process of legislation — committee meetings, consultations with private and governmental experts, staff inputs — and enact it without asking permission from anybody.

The president could either approve the bill or veto it. If he vetoed it, Congress could and perhaps should enact it over his veto, dramatizing its status as a co-equal branch.

Since a federal judge has blocked President Trump's revocation of their protection, Dreamers will remain protected while higher courts review that decision. Congress, which had been feeling pressure to fix the problem, now probably will do nothing until it just has to, inflicting more uncertainty and pain on Dreamers.

Edmund Burke, the British politician, pointed out that representatives usually understand issues better than do most of their constituents, who have neither time nor opportunity to study every issue. As he put it, "Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

Burke would continue, "It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to [those of his constituents] ; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living."

An important roles for our elected politicians is to educate Americans to understand policy issues and to see where their true interests lie. But historically, most members of Congress have not been "profiles in courage" who do what they think is right, even if it is unpopular, and then try to convince voters to see it their way.

I have long argued that our leaders are smarter than they act. They often refrain from doing what they know to be right for fear of losing the next election. Up to a point this is good, because it means they are sensitive to public opinion. Pushed too far, however, and neglecting their duty to make decisions and educate their constituents, we can get sad results.

Although protecting Dreamers has majority public support, it is still controversial. Some members of Congress who support rescuing them may be unseated. Although it is natural to wish to be re-elected, when public welfare or plain human decency requires they should do the right thing even if it irritates the president or loses them the next election.

Until more senators and representatives start heeding Burke's advice, it will continue to be true that our leaders are smarter, and probably more decent, than they act. Let us hope that this will not be at the expense of the Dreamers.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published 1981 and his most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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PaulFdeLespinasse
Until more senators and representatives start heeding Edmund Burke's advice, it will continue to be true that our leaders are smarter, and probably more decent, than they act. Let us hope that this will not be at the expense of the Dreamers.
co equal branch, burke, house bill, house
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2018-55-06
Tuesday, 06 March 2018 12:55 PM
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