Congress just can’t get its act together on anything except discord

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Two of the nation’s most divisive issues — gun control and immigration reform — collided in Washington on Thursday. Unfortunately, both took a beating. So did any attempt to convey that we have a functional government.

House Democrats’ 25-hour, civil-rights-style sit-in to force a vote on gun-control bills fizzled, but in the aftermath of the massacre in Orlando this month, the Dems, no doubt, have found an energizing issue that they intend to ride into the November elections. The sit-in made a splash as it was aired in the wee hours via Periscope and Facebook after the GOP shut down the House and turned off the lights. Of course, social media shed light when the House went dark.

Speaker Paul Ryan called it a “publicity stunt.” But no one resorted to reading Dr. Seuss, did they? But there was a larger message behind the sit-in, mirroring a plea on the lips of millions of Americans: Congress, do your job! Democrats were pushing Republicans for a vote — just a vote, up or down, on the record — on gun control. Didn’t happen, not on Mr. Ryan’s NRA-cushioned watch. A bill by Republican Sen. Susan Collins to bar those on the terror watch list from buying guns died amid an NRA outcry. In the House, Speaker Ryan adjourned until July 5. The sit-in’s effectiveness might be nil, but commend those lawmakers for taking such extraordinary action on behalf of the majority of Americans fed up with gun laws riddled with loopholes. It made Congress’ dysfunction crystal clear.

As did the Supreme Court’s deadlock, 4-4, in a case challenging President Obama’s executive action granting 5 million undocumented immigrants — the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents — the ability to avoid deportation and to get work permits. A lower court had declared the 2014 action unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s deadlock means that ruling stands.

What President Obama rightly called a “heartbreaking” stalemate will reverberate across the country at least through the November elections:

▪ Those 5 million undocumented and law-abiding immigrants are thrown back into limbo, with the possibility of deportation and being separated from their families shadowing their every step.

▪ The message is clear yet again: All this could have been avoided if Congress had done its job and passed immigration reform years ago. Instead, partisan infighting ruled.

▪ Where’s a ninth Supreme Court justice when you need one? There is little doubt if the late Justice Antonin Scalia had voted, a 5-4 vote would have been a simple, declarative ruling, likely finding the president’s action unconstitutional. Of course, the result might have been the same if Senate Republicans had done the responsible thing and held hearings and a vote on Mr. Obama’s eminently qualified nominee, Merrick Garland. But their leaders have refused, to their shame.

▪ With the Supreme Court’s majority obviously in play, voters this year will have a huge say in its direction, depending upon what side of the issues — affirmative action (upheld by the court this week), abortion, immigration, Obamacare — they stand. The policy stances of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. And whoever gets the nod for the White House will get to set the court’s trajectory.

But until Washington gets its act together, we’re back to Square One on guns and immigration.