Employers added a disappointing 88,000 jobs in March, confirming fears of a slowdown in payroll growth that economists say could persist for several months. The number of new jobs is less than half what economists had forecast. The unemployment rate fell to 7.6% from 7.7%, largely because 496,000 Americans stopped working or looking for work, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly employment report. Futures trading on Wall Street in major indexes began sinking as soon as the report was released. And investors fled to the safety of U.S. Treasury bonds, where prices soared and yields plummeted.
Former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin describes the totality of the new report as "awful." Few liberal economists can muster the strength to disagree. The civilian workforce participation rate is the real story today, with nearly half-a-million Americans giving up looking for work. Perversely, this allowed the official U-3 unemployment rate to tick down by a notch, but analysts from across the spectrum recognize that result as fool's gold. The participation rate is now a paltry 63.3 percent, the lowest it's been since 1978. This is a very disappointing report, which Obama cheerleaders will try to blame on his sequester cuts -- which, in turn, they'll try to blame on Republicans. But these are pre-sequester numbers. Before the furloughs. Before any possible layoffs. Don't ask me, ask Obama's favorite economist:
"I don't think the sequester [is in these numbers] at all - Mark Zandi, then mentions Obamacare— James Pethokoukis (@JimPethokoukis) April 5, 2013
That's a double gut-punch to the White House. Their go-to "independent" economist trashes their built-in excuse, then raises the specter of Obamacare (which he's been doing for the last few months). Kevin also cited economists warning of Obamacare-related layoffs acting as a wet blanket atop our struggling "recovery." The nonpartisan CBO has estimated that Obamacare would kill 800,000 American jobs. A few more relevant tweets from Pethokoukis, whose coverage is always excellent on employment report days:
10.98%: What the unemployment rate would be if labor force participation was the same as in January 2009— James Pethokoukis (@JimPethokoukis) April 5, 2013
8.3%: What the unemployment rate would be if labor force participation was the same as in March 2012— James Pethokoukis (@JimPethokoukis) April 5, 2013
So if the participation rate had simply held steady over last year, the U-3 number would be a full six-tenths of a point higher, and well above eight percent. March's 88,000 added jobs is the lowest number we've seen in nine months. Kevin's right that at the very least, the March data indicates that the long-awaited robust recovery is still elusive. That's why markets slumped as the news broke this morning.
Shock: Virginia Attorney General and presumptive gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli is trampling gay rights by trying to re-criminalize sexual behavior between consenting adults! That was the shrill storyline on liberal blogs yesterday, touched off by a legal petition filed by Cuccinelli's office over a court ruling on the state's anti-sodomy laws. Unsurprisingly, the "anti-gay" frame is a total red herring. Cuccinelli's narrow interest in the case lies in upholding a conviction of a 47-year-old man who solicited a sexual act from a 17-year-old girl. The Washington Post reports:
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has challenged a recent court ruling finding Virginia’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. The appeal has gotten national attention as Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial bid ramps up. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled on March 12 that Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” statute, which banned oral and anal sex, violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. One judge dissented, agreeing with a lower court that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas on sodomy laws applied only to consenting adults. The case in question involved a teenage girl and a 47-year-old man, William Scott MacDonald, who was convicted of soliciting a minor to commit a felony. A petition was filed on Cuccinelli’s behalf asking for the full 15-judge court to reconsider the panel’s decision. LGBT advocates have expressed disappointment, saying the law is unconstitutional and anti-gay. “This case is not about sexual orientation, but using current law to protect a 17 year-old girl from a 47 year-old sexual predator,” Cuccinelli spokeswoman Caroline Gibson said in a statement. “We agree with the dissenting opinion that the petitioner was not entitled to federal habeas corpus relief and the full court should have the opportunity to decide this matter. The attorney general is committed to protecting Virginia’s children from predators who attempt to exploit them and rob them of their childhood.” Cuccinelli agrees with the dissenting judge, Albert Diaz, who was appointed to the 4th Circuit by President Obama in 2009, who argued for deference to the Virginia Court of Appeals.
Whatever you think of Lawrence v. Texas and sodomy laws in general, it's clear that Cuccinelli's position here has absolutely nothing to do with consenting adults or gay rights. It's about a case involving a man pushing 50 and a high school-aged girl. Oh, and the Attorney General's office is siding with an Obama appointee's ruling on the matter. Those facts aside, the McAuliffe campaign ripped Cuccinelli for playing "divisive" politics:
Cuccinelli is running for governor this year against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, whose campaign picked up on the case. “This is just another example of Ken Cuccinelli ignoring the economy and instead focusing on his divisive ideological agenda,” McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said in a statement.
Yes, let's talk about the economy. Virginia's unemployment rate is 5.6 percent and the state enjoys a substantial budget surplus thanks to the stewardship of Virginia's current governor, Bob McDonnell. The Republican inherited a 7.2 percent unemployment rate and budget deficits from his Democratic predecessor, and has transformed the state into one of the nation's most business-friendly climates (the impending transportation boondoggle notwithstanding). McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats hope voters will ignore McDonnell's successful record of governance, which is why they're eager to harp on the culture wars, even when there's no basis for doing so. And the notion that Cuccinelli is "focused" on things like sodomy laws is absurd. Unlike McAuliffe, Cuccinelli has a day job other than full-time candidate. He was elected (overwhelmingly) by Virginia's voters to be the chief law enforcement officer in the state. That job entails duties. One of those duties, in Cuccinelli's estimation, is doing what it takes to protect high school girls from much older sexual suitors. The Cuccinelli campaign slapped back at McAuliffe's distortions with a curt statement:
"It is sad and unfortunate the day has come that Democrats attack someone for protecting children from sexual predators. This case is about prosecuting a 47 year-old man who solicited sexual acts from a 17 year-old girl. It's appalling Terry McAuliffe and his cronies would stoop this low.”
Fine. But the Cuccinelli camp needs to understand that they're in the big leagues now, and unforced errors are going to be exploited. I'm not talking about the merits of this particular case; I'm talking about the optics of fighting to uphold a sodomy law in the midst of an intense national debate over gay rights. Democrats' demagogic leap was entirely predictable here. How many low information voters will hear the nuanced details of Cuccinelli's position? And how many will just see headlines like this? If he's going to make a decision that will inflame public passions and present Democrats with an irresistible opportunity to push the "divisive" or "extreme" narrative, Cuccinelli and his campaign need to get out in front of it. Don't let the Left dart in for an easy "Republicans hate gays" layup. Cuccinelli dominated in blueish/purple Northern Virginia in 2009; he'll need to turn in a respectable performance there to win state-wide in November. Letting Democrats define the social issues is a ticket to real problems in NoVa if Team Cuccinelli isn't more careful moving forward.
UPDATE - Josh Barro points to previous remarks from Cuccinelli on the subject of sodomy laws in general. He'll have to explain those to voters who don't think various sexual acts between consenting adults should be barred by law -- and his intervention in this particular case, though unrelated to gay issues, opens the door.
UPDATE II - Terry McAuliffe's campaign won't say whether he supports or opposes prosecuting the 47-year-old man in this case under the sodomy laws. They'll just attack Cuccinelli for
fighting to uphold the conviction "divisive" politics.
Many current and former denver police officers are not thrilled with today's event either. some say the president's request to have officers stand behind him during the speech makes them political props. the officers are being used to further a political cause that they do not believe in.
Rather than be exploited as tools of the Obama Optics Machine, some officers are speaking out and rejecting the president's agenda in no uncertain terms. While we're on the subjects of Denver and gun control, take a moment to marvel at the astonishing ignorance of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), who is a lead sponsor of anti-gun legislation in the House. Via the Denver Post and Revealing Politics:
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette has been the lead sponsor on a federal ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines in two Congresses, saying it’s one of her top priorities. But Tuesday at a Denver Post forum on the gun control debate, the senior congresswoman from Denver appeared to not understand how guns work. Asked how a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds would be effective in reducing gun violence, DeGette said: “I will tell you these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available.” What she didn’t appear to understand is that a magazine can be reloaded with more bullets. According to the Shooter’s Log, only early on were magazines for AR-15s designed to be disposable, but the military changed that and now magazines are used several times. In handguns, a magazine is designed to be reused hundreds of times. After her remarks, the audience in the forum at The Denver Post building chuckled.
Of course the audience laughed. It's a preposterously stupid statement, DeGette's post-flub spin notwithstanding. Her spokespeople claim that she merely confused her terms and completely understands that magazines can be reloaded. Watch the clip and judge for yourself if that excuse flies. What's not a laughing matter is that such a prominent player in the gun control movement could be so breathtakingly clueless about the weapons she's trying to limit. What a slap in the face to law-abiding gun owners. Their moral and intellectual "betters" don't even respect the issue enough to master basic terminology and mechanics. Oh, and by the way, since Colorado instituted the new gun laws that Obama's in town to applaud, gun manufacturers are fleeing the state -- taking tax revenue and jobs with them.
Sort of. This heated discussion wasn't really about the issue of gay marriage, per se, but rather how O'Reilly characterized gay marriage opponents' appeals to religion. Last week, the Fox News host drew controversy for saying that traditional marriage advocates need to do more than "thump the Bible" when building a public case against same-sex marriage. After some conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh, objected to what they perceived to be a disdainful tone from O'Reilly, the long-time anchor invited Laura Ingraham onto his show to talk about it. Things got interesting right out of the gate (via Mediaite):
This dispute really boils down to whether you think "bible-thumper" is an inherently anti-Christian slur, or at least somewhat disrespectful. I think it's safe to say that it's certainly not a descriptor that evokes a positive image of believers. O'Reilly, a Catholic, obviously feels strongly that he wasn't insulting Christians by using the phrase, while Ingraham argues that his terminology wasn't "helpful." For mounting her minor critique, the syndicated radio host was rewarded with multiple exasperated interruptions. O'Reilly pronounced himself "disappointed" in Ingraham for betraying her reputation for common sense, or something. I happen to agree with O'Reilly that gay marriage critics have largely failed to persuade the public on this issue, and that overtly or exclusively religious arguments aren't likely to do the trick in the context of public policy. But it's unfair and inaccurate to accuse all defenders of traditional marriage of doing nothing "but thump the Bible." The traditionalist side of this dispute has, in fact, advanced various arguments that have nothing to do with religion; they've drawn on elements like world history, legal precedent and the historical linkage between marriage and procreation. Many people are no longer convinced by these points, but that doesn't mean they aren't being made.
An insidious form of media bias stems from what our press decides isn't worthy of coverage. In a column at Red State, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus decries American journalism's relative silence on the stunning testimony of a Planned Parenthood official in Florida last week. Asked if a child who survived an attempted abortion has a right not to be killed post-birth, Alisa Lapolt Snow repeatedly invoked a mother's right to choose, declining to state whether the newborn should be protected under law. Here's her ghoulish exchange with lawmakers:
When Rep. Todd Akin made his biologically illiterate remarks about "legitimate rape" on a local television show last year, the story blew up nationally. Republicans from coast to coast were tied to his comments, which Democrats seized upon to promulgate their "war on women" narrative. The basic message: The GOP is too extreme on abortion -- even though virtually every Republican under the sun rejected Akin's sentiments. Now we have a top representative from the abortion industry making appallingly extreme comments, tacitly suggesting that "choice" doesn't necessarily expire once a child is born. Priebus wants to know why this isn't a national story:
Planned Parenthood is an organization that receives taxpayer funding, including millions from the federal government. They also enjoy the unwavering support of almost all elected Democrats. The President, the Senate Majority Leader, the House Democratic Leader, and the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (in whose home state this hearing occurred) made funding Planned Parenthood an issue in the 2012 campaign. They should now all be held to account for that outspoken support. If the media won’t, then voters must ask the pressing questions: Do these Democrats also believe a newborn has no rights? Do they also endorse infanticide? I certainly hope not. I hope this is a place where we can all find common ground. Surely, all Americans can agree that a newborn deserves immediate medical care—and, if necessary, emergency care—regardless of the circumstances of birth. As a proud pro-life Republican, I firmly believe that an unborn child has a right to life. I realize there are those who disagree, but I never thought there was a debate over whether a newborn child had a right to life. Some may not believe life begins at conception, but don’t we all agree life begins at birth? Apparently not. Liberals often attack conservative lawmakers for casting a wary eye toward federal and state funding for Planned Parenthood. They can’t seem to comprehend why anyone would oppose giving taxpayer dollars to the abortion provider. Maybe now they can understand. In the last election, Republicans were repeatedly asked about whether they supported cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. It’s time Democrats are asked whether they still support funding an organization that refuses to care for a newborn. And this case of blatant media bias—cover-up really—should also be cause for some thoughtful self-examination among journalists.
He asks if President Obama endorses infanticide. Of course not, Obama says. Not so fast, Obama's record retorts. As a State Senator in Illinois, Obama was the most vocal opponent of a law that sought to clarify that born-alive infants would have full legal rights. He voted against different iterations of the law three times, then lied about why he did so. The media works overtime to make sure every voter is aware of an ignorant statement from a GOP back-bencher, but they've done precious little to expose the president's abortion extremism. They're more interested in protecting a pro-choice president than the lives of accidentally born babies. That's a horrible assertion, but it's true. I'll leave you with two related stories: (1) Watchdog.org reports that Rep. Todd Akin -- that "true conservative" -- doubled his Congressional staff's pay after losing his Senate race to Claire McCaskill. Missouri taxpayers sent him packing, so he decided to stick them with a bigger tab. A real gem, that one.
(2) MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris Perry has taken to referring to unborn children as "things:"
HARRIS-PERRY: So my only worry about that, is because I feel like a lot, I mean, having an 11-year-old, I do a lot of kids reading that sort of thing. But I feel like we do that, but it`s always about private morality, right? It feels sort of like to the extent that we talk about morality in the public sphere, we talk about private morality, who you should and shouldn’t sleep with, how you should or should not dispose of things in your uterus. I mean, you know, this is — this is what we think of as morality, right? But we don`t talk about public morality, what it means.
She refers to her 11-year-old child in that quote. It's nice to know that some "things" aren't "disposed of."
Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican who was born in Puerto Rico, penned an op/ed in yesterday's Los Angeles Times summarizing what he sees as a conservative vision for comprehensive immigration reform. Labrador worked as an immigration lawyer for 15 years, which makes him uniquely qualified to take a stab at this problem -- especially compared to many of his fellow lawmakers. He begins with a firm pre-condition -- strong, accountable border enforcement before anything else:
The starting place — the trigger for reforming and modernizing our immigration system — must be securing our borders and effectively enforcing our immigration laws before any legal status is granted to those here illegally. Border agencies and local authorities must be given the tools they need to effectively perform their duties. The Obama administration must allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to enforce existing laws and apprehend any undocumented person they encounter, not just those who have committed violent crimes. In addition, the Border Patrol must have access to all border areas, including federally managed scenic lands where motor vehicle use is restricted. The border fences, both virtual and physical, must be completed. However, fences alone will not prevent illegal immigration. Perhaps 35% to 40% of the illegal population entered the U.S. legally and simply never left. That is why border enforcement must be coupled with strict interior enforcement. We must create an effective entry and exit system that can track visa overstays and use a verification system, like E-Verify, to ensure that employers hire only legally authorized workers.
The key phrase there is "before any legal status." Next up, an expanded guest worker program, and a streamlined legal immigration process for highly skilled foreign nationals:
We must also create a robust guest worker program to match willing workers with employers according to flexible free-market forces. In 2006 and 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama and other Democrats sided with the labor unions in an effort to water down such legislation. Reform will not go forward if the Democrats again resist the need to create a guest worker program. At the same time, we must increase the number of visas and green cards available for high-skilled workers. We educate future business leaders and innovators from around the world at U.S. colleges and universities, and then force many who want to stay here to leave after graduation. Instead of creating jobs in the U.S., they return home or immigrate to other countries, where they become our competitors.
Then -- the "final" piece, as he calls it -- comes a path to legal residency, which Labrador stresses does not include an expedited or "special" path to citizenship -- with narrow DREAM-style exemptions:
Finally, after the border is secure and our guest worker and visa programs are modernized, the legislation must address what to do with the people who are here illegally. I know some citizens want to round them all up, but this is not realistic. Instead, we can create an appropriate program to normalize their status. To qualify for such a program, the undocumented must come out of the shadows, register and undergo thorough background checks. They must pay all taxes owed, and pay a fine. They must know English and remain employed and not become a financial burden to American taxpayers. Those who have committed serious crimes or who do not willingly come forward will not be eligible for the program. The legislation should not provide a special pathway to citizenship for the millions who have willfully violated our immigration laws. Those who entered the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own, will be allowed to have a pathway to citizenship.
But those who entered illegally as adults will only be allowed to participate in the new and improved guest worker and visa programs. I am not advocating a two-tiered immigration system or second-class status — those who can become citizens and those who can never become citizens. Anyone who wants to become a naturalized citizen of the United States is welcome to apply. But Congress must not make it any easier for those who entered our country illegally to obtain citizenship. Those who qualify for the new guest worker and visa programs and desire citizenship would be placed at the end of the line behind others immigrating legally. It would be a travesty to treat those who violated our laws better than those who have patiently waited their turn to come to the United States the right way.
Labrador's pre-buttal to the inevitable "two-tier"/"second class citizen" objections to pursuing legal residency (rather than citizenship) is important and well-framed. How his outline will jibe with the 'Gang of Eight's' much-anticipated framework remains to be seen, but it strikes me as cautious, sensible and fair. If there are incompatibilities, which seems quite likely, I'd be interested to hear a substantive public discussion between Labrador and Marco Rubio over the differences. An essential component of any successful plan will be public buy-in and trust. As we discussed yesterday, the American people have abundant cause for skepticism over the federal government's ability to engineer and manage a functional immigration system. Byron York combs through recent polling data and discovers an unsurprising truth: Americans are largely open to a generous reform bill if they can be assured that the border will be secured. How are those assurances playing thus far? Not well.
"Actually, Rushbo, racism is the belief that one race -- whites -- should rule all others. Get your definitions straight!"
Over to you, Merriam-Webster: Racism - noun - 1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. 2 : racial prejudice or discrimination. The best part of the clip is the confident, smirking nature of Matthew's little lecture. Get your definitions straight, Rushbo! Racism is the exclusive province of whites. Isn't it fun to be so much smarter and more sophisticated than those igorant knuckle-draggers on the Right, audience? What an ass. And I bet most of his viewers nodded right along. Question: How might Spittle McTingles describe these remarks?
Mr. Barry used the occasion of a victory party Tuesday to make this ignorant observation: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know.”
That would be a bigoted statement from an African-American politician (D) about getting rid of the "dirty" Asian shops that apparently bother him. No white people, so no racism -- right Chris? Incidentally, Matthews wins the insufferability crown at MSNBC for several reasons, at least in my book. First, his show airs twice in a three-hour span. The same show. Second, for years, Matthews masqueraded as a centrist newsman. He occasionally still claims to be one. So he was either subduing his bias that whole time, or he's gotten in touch with his inner hack to conform to the network's editorial bent. Neither explanation reflects particularly well on him. (I guarantee you his defense would be, "these Republicans have just gotten so radical," or whatever. Yes, I'm sure the party abandoned you, Chris). At the end of the day, viewers know what they're getting with a Bashir or an O'Donnell or a Schultz. But Matthews' show is unique in that it's degenerated from a tough, interesting news and analysis program to a sneering, predictable echo chamber. And finally, perhaps more than anyone else on the network, Matthews plays the race card to bully people he doesn't like. How ironic that he doesn't even know the dictionary definition of racism.
Henry Chao, an official at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services who is overseeing the technology of the exchanges said at a recent conference. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” Chao also described himself as “nervous.”
If he's nervous, you should be, too. This isn't some program that can collapse and go away without much ripple effect. Millions of people are counting on Obamacare to work the way it was described by its proponents. The law will impact supporters and detractors alike. Already, the law is proving to be an unwieldy nightmare, as the government labors to meet its own deadlines. Individuals, families and businesses are slated to have access to a "reformed" healthcare system starting in early 2014, four years after the law was signed with much fanfare. But that time horizon evidently hasn't provided ample time for the feds to get their act together and offer you the options and features you were promised for the bargain-basement price of nearly $2 trillion. The New York Times reports that the launch date for a major section of the law is being pushed back:
Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation. The law calls for a new insurance marketplace specifically for small businesses, starting next year. But in most states, employers will not be able to get what Congress intended: the option to provide workers with a choice of health plans. They will instead be limited to a single plan. The choice option, already available to many big businesses, was supposed to become available to small employers in January. But administration officials said they would delay it until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges. And they will delay the requirement for other states as well. The promise of affordable health insurance for small businesses was portrayed as a major advantage of the new health care law, mentioned often by White House officials and Democratic leaders in Congress as they fought opponents of the legislation. Supporters of the law said they were disappointed by the turn of events. The delay will “prolong and exacerbate health care costs that are crippling 29 million small businesses,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana...The administration cited “operational challenges” as a reason for the delay.
Here's the president explaining how fantastic this portion of his signature law would be in 2009: "If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you’ll be able to get coverage. We’ll do this by creating a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices." Now, not only has the small business marketplace been punted off to 2015, its "beneficiaries" will be limited to just one "option" -- rather than the array of competitive plans they were promised. And along comes Mary Landrieu, the 60th vote for Obamacare, whinging about how it might "cripple" small businesses. She knew all about the flaws embedded in this legislation, but being the reliable liberal foot soldier that she is, Landrieu cast the deciding vote in its favor. She is up for re-election in Louisiana next year. The "this is going to be great!" crowd hailed this particular feature of Obamacare as extremely beneficial to small businesses, many of which were strong critics of the legislation. For reasons that are becoming more apparent every day, many of those businesses continue to oppose the law. Philip Klein wonders if this false start is an omen of things to come:
The big question is whether this is a harbinger of more to come. In theory, there are supposed to be operational health insurance exchanges by Oct. 1, which will begin actually providing benefits on Jan. 1. Now that the federal government will have to run all or part of the exchanges in 33 states, it remains a big question whether health officials are going to be able to meet their deadlines. Something tells me we’ll be reading more stories like this in the coming months.
Of course we will. If you're keeping score at home, so far we've seen: Two unpopular and job-killing elements of the law repealed, with another one on the way out (driving up the price tag of the law in the process by eliminating fanciful "revenues), and now a popular component narrowed considerably and delayed. And the "go" date is still ten months away. This is why conservatives opposed Obamacare. Not because it was this president's idea, not because we hate government, not because we don't want people to have healthcare -- but because the law is unaffordable, poorly thought-out, and logistically shambolic. It will not help people the way we were told it would. Conservatives favor limited government in principle, of course, but it's also a practical position. Big, bloated government is limited in its capacity to do things properly, and when it bites off more than it can chew, we all suffer -- especially on something as personal, sensitive and important as healthcare.
UPDATE - Fresh bad news for people with pre-existing conditions -- whose plight, we were told, would be solved by the law signed three years ago.
The "comprehensive" label would suggest that beefed up border security would be at least one integral part of any final reform package, and rest assured that everyone on all sides of the debate will at least claim that it is. The real question is whether achieving certain concrete benchmarks will be meaningfully required before other elements of the law are triggered, such as starting the clock on a multi-year path to citizenship for illegals. Virtually every Republican says yes. Barack Obama (for now) and Janet Napolitano say no. Chuck Schumer and other Democrats say maybe-ish. Plus, preliminary legalization and the "citizenship" track are two discrete stages of the process, the timeline of which is up for deliberation. Meanwhile, border security isn't just an academic discussion; for many citizens in the American Southwest, these questions are a daily concern. Most illegals are simply coming here in search of a better life -- something we can all relate to, even without endorsing illegal immigration. But a not-insignificant number of illegal border crossings involve individuals with more nefarious motives. The sanctity of our sovereignty affects lives, it impacts our national security, and it may well sink or sustain any grand deal that the so-called "gang of eight" presents in the coming days. As Katie reported yesterday, some US border patrol agents have noticed an exponential uptick in illegal border crossings over the last several weeks, an influx that may correlate with reports of legislative and public momentum for a potential widespread amnesty. I discussed the political implications of these anecdotal observations on Fox News last evening:
The clip of Napolitano at the very beginning of the segment, in which she assures Americans that the border is "as secure as it's ever been," is a real head-turner. Even many Democrats aren't willing to feed that line to the public. When a bipartisan contingent of pro-reform Senators visited Arizona on a border security fact-finding mission last week, a fact they unexpectedly found was...an illegal immigrant hopping a fence before their very eyes. But one might argue that Katie's sources are just the views and opinions of a handful of individuals, and the McCain/Schumer surprise was an unfortunate, but relatively isolated, incident. This is where Byron York's reporting comes in. I've quote it before, but his coverage of a House subcommittee meeting several weeks ago lends essential context to deliberations over the issue of immigration as a whole. The Department of Homeland Security -- which Ms. Napolitano heads -- has been unable to document and track the progress of their border security measures since they supplanted the previous "operational control" measures with a new set of "holistic" metrics nearly three years ago:
Then the Department of Homeland Security threw out the concept of operational control, which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called “archaic.” The administration promised to create something called the Border Condition Index, or BCI, which would be a “holistic” (and a far better) measure of border security. Time passed, with no BCI. “Nearly three years later, the department has not produced this measure, so at this hearing, we will be asking for a status of the BCI, what measures it will take into account and when it might be ready,” subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican, said before Wednesday's testimony. Getting BCI up and running is particularly important now, Miller added, because comprehensive immigration reform cannot happen without a reliable way to assess border security. So imagine everyone's surprise when Mark Borkowski, a top Homeland Security technology official, told Miller that not only was BCI not ready, but that it won't measure border security and was never meant to. “I don't believe that we intend, at least at this point, that the BCI would be a tool for the measurement that you're suggesting,” Borkowski told Miller. “The BCI is part of a set of information that advises us on where we are and, most importantly, what the trends are ... It is not our intent, at least not immediately, that it would be the measure you are talking about.” Miller appeared stunned and practically begged Borkowski, along with two other Homeland Security officials who were testifying, to tell her what she wanted to hear. “I'm just trying to let this all digest” she said. “We're sort of sitting here, as a Congress ... At what point will you be able to give us something?” She never got an answer.
This is why any Congressional plan must specify exactly what qualifies as a secure border, and construct robust verification and enforcement mechanisms -- which history has shown to be rather elusive. York patches together a brief history of failed legislative efforts to crack down on visa "overstays," which account for a substantial percentage of America's illegal population:
But like the case of border security, Congress has passed law after law, going back to 1996, requiring the executive branch to crack down on overstays. The promised enforcement has never happened. Among the measures: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996; the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000; the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. All directed the executive branch to stop visa overstays, but the problem remains. A look at the recent House hearing, as well as at the long-standing overstay problem, highlights a major obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform. The executive branch has the authority to enforce border and visa security. But these days, it appears the executive branch, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, doesn't want to do the job. Why would passing a new comprehensive immigration reform measure change that?
That's a damn good question -- one that reform proponents will have to answer, convincingly and in detail. "It'll be different this time" won't cut it. Public polling has shown that a significant majority of Americans support a path to citizenship -- or at least some form of legal residency -- for non-criminal illegal immigrants, as part of a larger reform. Even larger majorities also want better border enforcement. These are not mutually exclusive ends, but a just and sustainable future for the former goal is not plausible without achieving the latter. We'll see what the 'gang' has in mind, perhaps as early as late this week.
Just to jog your memory a bit, Mark Sanford is the former South Carolina governor who resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and was censured by his state legislature in the aftermath of a bizarre 2009 sex scandal. Yep, he was the guy whose staff claimed was off "hiking the Appalachian Trail" when he mysteriously disappeared for nearly a week in June of that year -- when, in fact, he was visiting his journalist mistress (now-fiancee) in Buenos Aires. WaPo's Jennifer Rubin reminds us of another fun fact about the imbroglio:
He’d like to characterize his misdeeds as “personal,” but they were anything but. As you may recall, Sanford used public funds for a tryst. This is a small-government conservative careful with the taxpayers’ money? Moreover, he doubled down on his misbehavior, insisting for some time that he had used his own funds. Eventually, he was forced to repay $9,000.
Part of that tab included charging taxpayers for expensive business and first class tickets on his "official" visits to South America. So a self-stylized protector of the American taxpayer and social conservative was forced to reimburse the state treasury for expenses associated with an overseas extramarital affair. But that's old news. Sanford has undertaken a political rehabilitation project and is running for a second stint in Congress. Astonishingly, he reportedly asked his wronged ex-wife to run his special election campaign to fill the seat of now-Senator Tim Scott. She declined. Undeterred, Sanford has been telling South Carolinians how very, very sorry he is about everything, and that they really ought to make peace with him by sending him back to Washington. Here he is hinting at prior "mistakes" in a recent ad:
This strategy seems to be working...so far. Sanford emerged as the front-runner in last month's 16-way GOP primary, and is expected to prevail in tomorrow's run-off election. If he does, Sanford will face a well-funded Democratic opponent, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert:
Voters here have heard all the reasons to keep former Gov. Mark Sanford retired from politics. He’s damaged goods. He risks handing a safe Republican congressional seat to the sister of liberal comedian Stephen Colbert. The 1st Congressional District needs a conservative who lives the talk instead of issuing apologies. Yet, Sanford appears to be on the cusp of clinching the Republican nomination Tuesday for the right to take on Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a May 7 special election that’s sure to become a national spectacle.
Forced on the defensive, Sanford tried to argue that Bostic hasn’t come clean about some of his own weaknesses, such as missed votes on the county council. But Bostic hit back, saying he took time off to care for his wife during her bout with cancer. And he managed to throw in a veiled barb at Sanford going AWOL from the governor’s office — he infamously claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail — to visit his mistress. “My absence is because I was home taking care of her largely — doing what I should have been,” Bostic said. “People knew where I was. I did my job just the same.” Outside the debate hall, some Sanford advisers seemed shaken, pointing out that Bostic had said he wouldn’t raise the former governor’s personal troubles during the campaign.
Oh, spare us. Sanford's advisers were "shaken" that a political opponent landed a glancing blow over their man's infamous 2009 adulterous disappearing act? Please. If they think Democrats will go the "honorable" route in a general, they're dreaming. Does Sanford even have standing to demand honor? I'm a big believer in redemption and grace. Let he who is blameless cast the first stone. But forgiveness need not entail a restoration to political power of a man who recently abused the people's trust. Is there really no Republican better suited to represent the people of South Carolina's first Congressional District than Mark Sanford? The people will render that verdict tomorrow. With the national Republican brand limping along, is there any scenario under which a Sanford nomination does not become a damaging side show? Before you go, be sure to re-watch Sanford's freaky deaky press 2009 conference:
I suspect SC-1 voters will be reminded of that painfully awkward spectacle early and often if Sanford becomes the nominee. Democrats may overplay their hand, and the redness of the district may pull him through, but the case against Sanford is sordid and strong.
UPDATE - Jim Geraghty surveys the lay of the land in advance of tomorrow's run-off:
I've chatted with a couple of active Republican and tea-party activists down here. If Sanford is the nominee, a certain number of Republicans won't vote for him, citing the 2009 scandal and sense that Sanford embarrassed the state by traveling to Argentina and not telling anyone. (The affair is considered much less of an issue than his leaving the state under false pretenses.) Very few of those folks feel strongly enough about Sanford to vote for Elizabeth Colbert-Bush; they'll just stay home. Of course, if Bostic is the nominee, a certain number of Republicans will stay home as well. No doubt, Bostic has two key bases of support, Evangelical Christians and home schoolers. As one Beaufort County resident put it to me, "I'm hearing folks saying, 'My preacher says I should vote for him.'" The problem is breaking beyond that base, and branching out support beyond the Charleston suburbs into Beaufort County, into the retiree-heavy precincts along Route 278 and on Hilton Head Island. Bostic's candidacy is pretty clearly built around his religious identity – he's described himself as a creationist – and that's not quite the brand of conservatism that traditionally sells in this district.
Geraghty also suggests that Colbert-Busch is only a contender because of the star power of her brother. Careful, Jim. War on women, and all that.