Ordered Liberty

The Fight Over Obama's Amnesty Decree Has Nothing to Do With Homeland Security

Here we go again.

Last month’s “CRomnibus” debacle underscored a divide between the conservative base that gave Republicans a resounding victory in the midterm elections and GOP leadership on Capitol Hill: The base wants Obama’s lawlessness stopped; leadership wants to show that Republicans can “govern” by working cooperatively with Obama – in effect, codifying his lawlessness.

Prepare for the next betrayal: Republicans are about to surrender on Obama’s amnesty for illegal immigrants. The surrender, which will be portrayed as a reluctant but noble compromise for the sake of “homeland security,” was baked in the CRomnibus cake.

Within what seemed like the bat of an eye, Republicans crushed their supporters’ spirits by following up their November triumph with a monstrous 1,774-page budget bill that forfeited Congress’s major weapon against executive lawlessness, the power of the purse. The CRomnibus underwrote the government through 2015, expending a staggering $1.1 trillion on such Obama priorities as the full funding of Obamacare – notwithstanding Republican campaign vows to work tirelessly to kill Obamacare.

The base became livid when GOP leaders teamed up with the White House to whip against conservative opposition to the CRomnibus bill. As I recounted last week, conservative leaders across the country responded with a “Citizens’ Mandate from the November 2014 Elections,” demanding that the new, GOP-led Congress heed the voters’ call to “Stop the Fundamental Transformation of America.”

Given that the president proclaimed his imperious amnesty decree on the eve of the election, its unpopularity may have been even more critical to the GOP’s November sweep than Obamacare’s. Republicans knew they would have to make a show of fighting it.

But nothing more than a show.

Republicans can only stop the amnesty by denying funding for its lawless implementation – which is to include the processing of millions of illegal aliens for relief from deportation and the issuance of work permits. But such exploitation of the power of the purse can work only if Republicans are willing to let the government shut down when, inevitably, Obama refuses to sign their defunding bill.

Trembling with fear that such a shutdown, no matter how partial and trivial, would be used to suggest they are incapable of “governing,” GOP leaders have foresworn the possibility. This is doubly foolish: (a) in our constitutional system, it is mainly the executive who governs, so Republicans could not “govern” even if they had a cooperative president to work with, and (b) since Republicans would be offering to fund everything else in the government except Obama’s unpopular amnesty, it would be manifest that Obama, not the GOP, was (very partially) shutting down the government.

Unfortunately, GOP leaders are hewing to their “no shutdowns under any circumstances” position (in conjunction with their “no impeachment no matter what Obama does” position). As they well know, they are thus giving our lawless president license to be as lawless as he chooses to be – their promises to “fight” on this or that are not genuine. They are hoping, though, that you don’t know that.

So all that remains of the promised “fight” against amnesty is the theater by which surrender is to be played out. That was already determined in the CRomnibus. It will be the Theater of National Security.

With constituents burning up their phone lines to protest the CRomnibus as it headed to a vote, jittery Republicans pleaded with leadership for a fig leaf they could portray as real opposition to Obama. GOP leaders accommodated them by carving the Department of Homeland Security out of the agreement to fund the whole government for a year. The DHS behemoth includes the agencies that enforce – or, rather, refrain from enforcing – the immigration laws. Under the accommodation, DHS would be funded only into February. Republicans therefore rode out the CRomnibus storm by assuring the rubes that, upon taking control of Congress in January, they’d finally be poised to slash funding from the agencies slated to implement Obama’s amnesty.

Shrewd: The scenario enabled Republicans to maintain their pose as opponents of unconstitutional executive amnesty (even though many of them actually support Obama’s amnesty policy). Yet, it also provided a ready-made excuse for retreat. How, after all, could Republicans possibly put funding for “homeland security” in jeopardy? By teeing up the controversy as if it were a battle over anti-terrorism dollars, rather than pro-amnesty dollars, Republicans left themselves an escape hatch: When the time was right, they could withdraw their opposition to Obama’s amnesty scheme while portraying themselves as mature, responsible guardians of public safety.

As if on cue, jihadists trained by al Qaeda carried out mass-murders in Paris. Meanwhile in Cincinnati, Christopher Lee Cornell, a would-be Islamist terrorist inspired by ISIS, was arrested for planning to bomb the U.S. Capitol.

Instantly, the GOP spin machine cranked into high gear: Senator John Cornyn, now the majority whip, promised an “unequivocal commitment to funding” DHS – “we’re not going to put that at risk under any circumstances.” “We recognize the important role that the Department of Homeland Security plays in this country,” intoned John Thune, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican. According to his House counterpart, GOP Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republicans must “work very closely with the president,” when it comes to “keep[ing] the country safe.” Senator Rob Portman chimed in that the plot against the Capitol by a man from his home state of Ohio made him “acutely aware” of the frightening ramifications of putting DHS funding at risk.

Perhaps Sen. Portman and his colleagues should study the Capitol bombing plot more closely. What they might notice is that it is an FBI case, not a DHS case. Here is the criminal complaint, sworn out by an FBI special agent, working in conjunction with the FBI’s Cincinnati-Dayton Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI runs several JTTFs throughout the country. In the main, they combine FBI agents with state and local police – who are the real force multipliers in counterterrorism. There is some participation, albeit not much, from other federal agencies.

The fact is that virtually every terrorism prosecution in the United States results from FBI investigations. When it comes to counterterrorism, the FBI – the premier intelligence and enforcement arm of the Department of Justice – is our actual department of homeland security. And as for terrorist threats from outside the country, security for our homeland is provided by the armed forces and the intelligence community, into which taxpayers pour hundreds of billions of dollars annually. When there is a domestic angle to pursue, those departments – and our allies overseas – call in the FBI.

Yet, under the regnant Washington illusion, a bloated, dysfunctional bureaucratic sprawl that houses a hodgepodge of 22 agencies simply must be essential to homeland security because … the pols decided to call it the “Department of Homeland Security.” You know, the same way your health is somehow better protected and more affordable because the pols decided to call a statute the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (“And if you like your homeland security, you can keep your homeland security …”)

Have a gander at DHS’s own listing and description of its component agencies. Many of them have little, if anything, to do with combatting the jihad. The ones with obvious counterterrorism sidelines – such as the immigration and border security services – are the very agencies that, under Obama, are not enforcing the laws adequately.

How does it promote homeland security to pay for enforcement agencies that do not perform their enforcement missions?

As I’ve maintained since its inception, DHS should never have been created in the first place. It was a typical Washington “Look, we’re doing something!” reaction to the 9/11 attacks. It is grossly overfunded (now at $60 billion, up threefold from its original budget just a dozen years ago). It is bloated. Its most notable contributions to counterterrorism have been (a) a report suggesting that the real terror threat came from small government conservatives and veterans returning home from war, and (b) retaining Islamist consultants to help purge information about Islamic supremacist ideology from materials used to train law-enforcement and intelligence agents – including a ban on such words as jihad and Islamofascism. The department is poorly run, mired in scandal, and apparently impossible to audit.

And did I mention that it is systematically refusing to enforce the immigration laws, notwithstanding the president’s oath to execute the laws faithfully?

A number of agencies currently housed in DHS perform important counterterrorism functions. Those agencies should be reassigned to more appropriate departments. The Coast Guard, for example, could return to the Department of Transportation (where it was for nearly 40 years before DHS came into existence) but with liaison to the Defense and Justice Departments as well as participation in the FBI’s terrorism task forces. But it is simply not true that DHS gives the United States value-added security that we could not have if it did not exist.

More significantly for present purposes, the Republicans’ “homeland security” rationalization for caving in on the fight against the president’s lawless amnesty is bogus. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York recently noted, Congress routinely attaches riders to spending bills, dictating how money may or may not be spent – indeed, there were more than 450 such riders in the CRomnibus itself. Palpably, Congress can fully fund all of DHS’s national security and counterterrorism functions while attaching riders directing that no funds be expended on the execution of Obama’s amnesty – no registration, no issuance of government benefits, no employment authorizations, etc.

Would Obama veto such a bill? He might – although he has signed many such bills over the years despite chafing at their spending restrictions (e.g., the prohibition against using public funds to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and bring detainees into the United States). Even if he vetoed the bill, however, it would be abundantly clear that the veto was over immigration policy, not homeland security. Having voted to fund homeland security functions, Republicans could not credibly be accused of undermining our national defense against terrorism just because the context of the immigration debate is labeled a “homeland security” bill.

If Republicans surrender on amnesty for illegal aliens, it will be because they decided to surrender on amnesty for illegal aliens. It will be because their vows to fight Obama were so much empty rhetoric. It will have nothing to do with homeland security.