Tonawanda News

April 14, 2013

DUVALL: Spring thaw in Washington noted on Capitol Hill

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Is there a detente in Washington between the Hatfields and McCoys?

After years of partisan bickering preventing almost anything from getting done there’s been a slew of news suggesting the wave of discontent may have crested.

In an Associated Press report describing a bipartisan breakthrough on gun control in the Senate in Thursday’s paper there was this laundry list of feel-good vibes:

• Negotiators for the two parties said they had reached agreement on the major elements of a Senate immigration bill they’re expected to unveil next week.

• The top Republican in government, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, publicly disagreed with his party campaign chairman’s criticism of Obama’s budget proposal to trim future Social Security and Medicare benefits. Wednesday night, GOP senators left a White House dinner praising Obama for reaching out to them on his budget.

• Senators of both parties had a rare joint luncheon to honor Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, on the 40th anniversary of his release from a North Vietnamese prison.

Next thing you know they’ll all be holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”

What led to these breakthroughs? Well, in one instance it’s a political calculus. In another, it’s a brave turn by families sharing their immense pain and grief — and a few lawmakers willing to listen rather than bloviate.

It is no secret by now the Republican party has a serious problem with Latino voters. They’re on the verge of becoming a solidly Democratic demographic alongside blacks. Fewer than 1 in 4 Latinos voted for Mitt Romney last year.

If Republicans are to be anything more than a party that appeals to aging rural white voters they have to do something to address their Latino problem.

That starts with dropping opposition to comprehensive immigration reform — despite the most conservative elements of the party still urging for a shadow border war and deportation of all people living in America illegally. 

These might be mainstream views in the increasingly small portion of the electorate that votes in Republican primaries but it isn’t reflective of the national mood on immigration. Business interests want a path to normalization for undocumented workers. Most average Americans acknowledge there is no practical way to kick out undocumented people. Others acknowledge America’s proud history as a nation of immigrants and see in their Latino friends and neighbors the next generation striving to realize the American dream.

Smartly, the Republicans have acknowledged this. 

Not so smartly, they have had to deal with embarrassing optics with a veteran lawmaker calling Mexicans “wetbacks.”

That’s not exactly going to help in the Latino outreach department but the condemnation from Republican leadership was swift and merciless. If nothing else, it shows top Republicans are wary of hateful speech without reprisal. It’s a marked shift from the 2008 primaries where candidates climbed over each other to talk tough on what they would do to kick undocumented people out of the country.

And on gun control, a pair of senators, a conservative Democrat and a conservative Republican, reached a deal on a gun control bill. Rather than fall back on their A-ratings from the NRA and refuse to listen to Americans who have been touched — tragically — by the issue, they did what lawmakers are supposed to do.

They sat down with families of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims and heard what they had to say.

The compromise they reached is still a long way from becoming law. There’s the small matter of the House of Representatives, a perpetual stumbling block for any bipartisan compromise. 

But in the Senate deal, old friend New York Sen. Chuck Schumer worked behind the scenes to help Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., reach an accord.

Normally when Chuck Schumer does anything helpful in Washington — and plenty of times when he hasn’t done much of anything — he calls a press conference.

This time, Toomey asked him to bow out. The conservative Republican said he couldn’t be seen standing next to Schumer, who more or less embodies opposition to gun ownership.

Lo and behold, when the deal was announced it was only Manchin and Toomey before the cameras. Chuck was nowhere to be found.

You know things are changing when Chuck Schumer ducks a press conference.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.