For the next six months, John McCain will be the most powerful Senator on Capitol Hill. Maverick no more, McCain should seize his newfound stature within “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to take five steps necessary to convince Americans that he has finally learned his lesson about our nation’s dangerously porous borders.
If McCain is serious about border security (he recently called the “virtual” fence in Arizona a “disaster”), here’s a short list of things McCain can do NOW to prove that he is truly willing to work with us. (McCain will never be one of us when it comes to the illegal alien invasion of this country, but, as I used to tell my clients when I was practicing law, “Half a loaf is better than none at all.”)
1. Fund The Fence. Yes, I know the Constitution requires that spending bills originate in the House of Representatives. But McCain, as the second-highest ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is in a position to link the funding and progress of other politician’s cherished projects with real support for a REAL fence. [Note: I would prefer a wall].
A congresswoman from New Jersey is carrying a bill for her state’s pharmaceutical companies? She’ll have to agree to fund the fence if she wants McCain’s support in reporting the bill out of committee. A Democrat senator wants to add an “environmental protection rider to a trade bill? If he agrees to fund the fence, maybe there’s something to talk about. You get the picture.
And, while he’s at it, McCain can introduce the Senate version of H.R. 5124, Rep. Duncan Hunter’s bill to require the government to build at least 700 miles of 14-foot-high, double-layered fencing WITHIN SIX MONTHS.
Action on the fence, more than anything, will convince Americans that McCain has seen the light.
2. Demand Chertoff’s Resignation. The one man who symbolizes the abject failure of this Administration to secure our borders is Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. McCain should call for Chertoff’s immediate resignation.
This is a win-win-win issue for McCain. Many Americans dislike Chertoff because of his department’s intrusive and ineffective airport security measures, including the insipid Shoe Carnival. (Thank goodness Richard Reid didn’t hide a bomb in his underwear). A demand for Chertoff’s resignation would distance McCain from the White
House on the issue of border security – appealing to voters with Bush fatigue. Since a sitting senator can’t unilaterally remove a Cabinet officer, McCain would receive credit for taking a strong position even though he wouldn’t be able to follow through until Inauguration Day.
Chertoff is particularly loathed by enforcement-first conservatives because Chertoff is the point man in the Administration’s masterplan to NOT build the border fence. Chertoff advocated the smoke-and-mirrors “virtual fence” which – surprise! – does not work.
By simply calling for Chertoff’s resignation, McCain can, with little risk to himself, demonstrate that he understands the frustrations and demands of the American people.
3. Save the SAVE Act. The SAVE Act, which would add 8,000 Border Patrol agents and require employer verification of new hires’ work eligibility, is currently bottled up in the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees. McCain could easily twist a few arms and have the SAVE Act placed before the full Senate for a roll call vote. This would focus the country on the issue, and the vote will force double-talking senators to definitively choose a side.
4. An Enforcement-First G.O.P. Platform. In the past, some have debated that the Republican Platform is an unnecessary liability. Every four years, the liberal media spends too much time, and ink, vilifying the Republican Party over varying planks in the platform, while completely ignoring the Democrat Party platform.
But, since platforms are a part of our political tradition, McCain should demand that an enforcement-first approach to border control/security be a principal theme of the platform. Border security should be the first issue addressed in the body of the text. In fact, the subject fits squarely under an important title every American understands: “National Security.”
5. Vet the Right Veeps. No one expects McCain to announce his vice presidential selection for at least a few weeks. But now that McCain has obtained enough delegates to be the party’s nominee, all eyes are on his vice presidential search. McCain can use his selection to signal that he is serious about border security. While “enforcement-only” conservatives would be thrilled if McCain announced that he was formally vetting Tom Tancredo for the Number Two spot, I acknowledge that Tancredo can be painted as a divisive figure who could be demonized in 30-second attack ads. Duncan Hunter would also be a fine choice, but he lacks strong national name recognition (as evidenced by his poor presidential campaign performance this election).
Enter – re-enter – Mitt Romney. McCain does not have to formally announce Romney as his running mate, but, if the two start to appear together in public hatchet-burying ceremonies, voters will get the message – especially if Romney stumps for McCain while talking about border enforcement. I believe Romney is an excellent choice - particularly given Romney’s expertise on economic matters.
Let’s see if McCain takes any of these five steps and eases our concerns about his commitment to border security.