Both par­ties flip on the bor­der

So why shut down the gov­ern­ment?

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | OPINION - Nancy Ja­cob­son Nancy Ja­cob­son is a founder of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion No La­bels.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump crafted a three-week shut­down re­prieve on Fri­day. In the af­ter­math, there was a cross­fire of anal­y­sis of who won and who lost. But un­like pre­vi­ous fed­eral shut­downs, the un­der­ly­ing dis­agree­ment keep­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers hostage was en­tirely fab­ri­cated on both sides. Clearly, pol­i­tics have reached a new low.

The five-week shut­down was a sub­stance-free catas­tro­phe:

❚ “Im­mi­gra­tion has been re­duced to the point where it does not pro­vide the stim­u­lus to growth that it should, nor are we ful­fill­ing our obli­ga­tion as a haven for the op­pressed.” That may sound like a quote from a con­gres­sional Demo­crat, but it’s ac­tu­ally a quote from the 1960 Repub­li­can Party plat­form. Two decades later, the nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions that pro­pelled Ron­ald Rea­gan into the White House both en­dorsed planks ex­tend­ing tra­di­tional Amer­i­can hos­pi­tal­ity to im­mi­grants. And Rea­gan him­self signed a bill in 1986 pro­vid­ing a form of amnesty to im­mi­grants in the United States with­out green cards.

❚ “I voted nu­mer­ous times when I was a sen­a­tor to spend money to build a bar­rier to try to pre­vent il­le­gal im­mi­grants from com­ing in. And I do think that you have to con­trol your bor­ders.” That sounds like a talk­ing point from a Repub­li­can politi­cian try­ing to fend off a pri­mary chal­lenge from his right flank. But it’s ac­tu­ally a 2015 quote from Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Two decades ear­lier, in Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat Dianne Fe­in­stein’s re-elec­tion cam­paign for the Se­nate, she at­tacked GOP op­po­nent Michael Huff­in­g­ton in an ad: “While Con­gress­man Huff­in­g­ton voted against new bor­der guards, Dianne Fe­in­stein led the fight to stop il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.”

If your head is spin­ning, don’t be ashamed. While prior shut­downs cen­tered on real ide­o­log­i­cal de­bates, the fright­en­ing thing here is that both par­ties have taken both sides of the bor­der is­sue as re­cently as a few years ago.

Fenc­ing and cit­i­zen­ship

In 2013, Democrats, in­clud­ing Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer, en­dorsed com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form that re­quired the con­struc­tion of 700 miles of bor­der fenc­ing. To­day, Democrats won’t even al­low the pres­i­dent to put a down pay­ment on ad­di­tional bar­ri­ers.

Last year, then-Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, com­plained af­ter a White House meet­ing: “We are talk­ing about every­thing but do­ing some­thing for the DACA kids (“Dream­ers”). I would vote for a path to cit­i­zen­ship, which isn’t easy, but I would do it just as an ef­fort.” To­day, Repub­li­cans are la­bel­ing any re­lief as “amnesty” for those brought il­le­gally to the USA as chil­dren.

Here’s the re­al­ity: Both po­lit­i­cal par­ties be­lieve in bor­der se­cu­rity; no one se­ri­ously thinks peo­ple from other coun­tries should be able to traipse into the United States unan­nounced. As re­cently as early 2018, Se­nate Democrats of­fered to give the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion $25 bil­lion — if the pres­i­dent would agree to pro­vide the Dream­ers with a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship.

And nei­ther side thinks the spe­cific means of se­cur­ing the bor­der — a wall or drones, what­ever — is worth a gov­ern­ment shut­down. In the fall of 2017, when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was ask­ing for a mere ini­tial $1.6 bil­lion to be­gin con­struc­tion on the wall, USA TO­DAY sur­veyed all 292 mem­bers of the House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity to see where they stood: Only 69 ex­pressed sup­ported the down pay­ment.

Kabuki the­ater

This is po­lit­i­cal brinks­man­ship as third-rate Kabuki the­ater. Gov­ern­ment should be about ad­dress­ing au­then­tic chal­lenges, not gam­bling on ways to drive a party’s ap­proval rat­ings. It would be one thing if Democrats and Repub­li­cans were fight­ing about an is­sue on which they were ide­o­log­i­cally at odds. But they’re not — and the Amer­i­can peo­ple paid the price.

This all points to a broader ques­tion. If our lead­ers are will­ing to shut down the gov­ern­ment over a round­ing er­ror in the fed­eral bud­get (and may again in three weeks), how can we ex­pect them to resolve the much more dif­fi­cult chal­lenges ahead?

We need Wash­ing­ton to get its head in the game. And it’s up to us, Amer­i­cans, to de­mand that those rep­re­sent­ing us live up to the honor of the of­fices we elected them to fill.

LARRY W. SMITH/EPA-EFE

Raze wire is tan­gled through the fence along the Rio Grande River near McAllen, Texas.

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