OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Twisted in political pretzel


The border compromise negotiated by three U.S. senators--a Republican, a Democrat and an independent--was not perfect. And that's a redundant statement. Two words, "compromise" and "negotiated," are dead giveaways of imperfection.

No single piece of legislation is ever permanent. Life keeps happening. There is no finish line on governance. The effect of a new law is watched and assessed. Other bills can be filed to augment or change or even repeal the law. Otherwise, we'd need no ongoing Congress, a pleasant but impractical thought.

At a micro level, the development of this particular compromise represented legislative politics at its best. James Lankford, a conservative Republican senator and straight-arrow Baptist preacher from ruby-red Oklahoma, worked out this legislation over four months of intense give-and-take with a left-of-center Connecticut Democrat, Chris Murphy, and a compromise-inclined recently minted independent senator from border-state Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema.

At a macro level, though, the development showcased everything wrong with our politics, a shared failing more pronounced with the Republicans in their current state of Trump servitude.

Sinema is such a solid legislator that she almost assuredly can't get re-elected, having emphasized problem-solving and leaving the Democrats for independence--to life without the comfort zone of a group-think base.

She was often going to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and asking them to help her assemble a few members on each side to work on a compromise on infrastructure or guns or immigration. Intolerant liberals came to despise her because she thought for herself and got along with McConnell and Mitt Romney and a few other Republicans.

She had been carrying around much of this border compromise for years. The border crisis was a local issue for her in Arizona.

Finally, the rate of border crossings got high enough for both Schumer and McConnell to assign her partners in negotiations--liberal Murphy on the Democratic side and the conservative Lankford on the Republican side.

They worked for four months. They got something into shape. McConnell was thinking there might be a dozen or more Republican senators who'd vote for it--enough to break a filibuster. House Republicans didn't have enough votes, because, as Lankford said in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, the House is structurally more political while the Senate's role is to be more deliberative.

Then Donald Trump tweeted in capital letters and with exclamation points that the deal was political window dressing for President Biden. He wanted the untenable border situation to be kept untenable so that he could get elected by condemning it and crowing that he alone could fix it.

The bill ended up getting just four votes from Senate Republicans--from Lankford and the usual and dwindling sanity caucus, comprising the lame-duck Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

The bill was the toughest anti-immigration measure of the modern era. It proposed to ramp up border officers, immigration officers and immigration judges. It proposed to enhance electronic surveillance and fentanyl detection while adding more detention beds and building more sections of a border wall. It did not include a path to citizenship for undocumented persons, a provision previously insisted on by Democrats.

It was so tough that the negotiating Democrat, Murphy, found it necessary to say, "the border never closes." And that prompted Republicans to say, aha, he admitted it.

Being a liberal Democrat, Murphy lacked aptitude for effective politics. But he simply was citing logic and fact.

Ports of entry would stay open. International airports would still let people in and out.

It was left to Lankford to explain that the bill's border-closure section--requiring the president to close the border when the rate of crossings exceeded 5,000 per day over a week--meant that, when unprocessed border-crossers were detained, they would no longer be transported and processed. They would be detained and deported.

The important practical thing, this conservative Oklahoma Republican explained, is that the nation would have new manpower with more and better tools to patrol, intercede and detain.

But it's true: The nation would not be--and could not be--hermetically sealed.

Meanwhile, from Arkansas, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, mild-mannered and meek, said he opposed the deal because it was being pushed too quickly. He said he wanted an opportunity for amendments.

His objection was procedural rather than substantive. He didn't say he had amendments in mind. "Amendment" was a euphemism for fear of Trump.

Remember that Boozman was opposed from the right in his recent primary and wound up leaning on Sarah Sanders to land him Trump's endorsement. Then he had to lean on her again when he got caught on a hidden camera inadvertently saying something truthful about Trump.

By definition, truth about Trump is unflattering.

Boozman knows his Oklahoma neighbor, Lankford, is a solid conservative and good man. But he knows Trump is his boss, if not a good man. He of course is hardly alone in that contemporary Republican pretzel.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.


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