Dysfunctional Washington refuses to work out its differences to solve problems that matter to Americans.
So say pundits and policy activists, perhaps hoping that diffuse criticism, rather than finger-pointing, will yield a government willing to govern.
But the problem isn’t “Washington.” It isn’t “Congress,” either. The problem is elected officials from a single political party: the GOP.
Republicans in the White House and Congress are the ones standing in the way of helping “dreamers.” They are not merely obstructing gun reform but also rolling back existing gun-control measures.
You’d never know it from the usual “blame Washington” rhetoric, but there are lots of commonsense policy changes, on supposedly unsolvable issues, that large majorities of voters from both parties support.
These include protecting dreamers, the young undocumented immigrants brought here as children. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 81 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of Republicans, said dreamers should be allowed to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. Other polls have had similar results.
And yet, dreamers are scheduled to start losing their protected status in two weeks.
Who set this in motion? President Donald Trump, a Republican.
And who has blocked a legislative fix? Republican lawmakers. Call it caving or call it compromise, but Democrats have repeatedly ceded ground on their immigration principles — including by agreeing to fund a border wall.
The Senate held three votes last week to help dreamers. All three failed.
The first was on a “clean” proposal that offered dreamers citizenship. Nearly all Democrats voted for it; all but four Republicans voted against it.
There was also a bipartisan “compromise” plan. It included a path to citizenship for dreamers, funding for border security and a prohibition on dreamers sponsoring parents for legal status. That also failed, with nearly all Democrats voting for it and nearly all Republicans against.
Finally there was a plan to protect dreamers in exchange for gutting the legal immigration system, an idea that until recently resided only among the far-right fringe. Only this bill did a majority of Republicans support, even though they knew it was DOA thanks both to Democratic opposition and to defections within their own party.
On guns, too, Congress has been portrayed as generically dysfunctional, always at reasonable-people-can-disagree loggerheads. But here, too, there is widespread agreement among voters — from both parties — on modest gun-control measures.
Nine in 10 Republicans support background checks for all gun buyers. The same share supports preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.
Majorities of Republican voters also support banning gun modifications that can make semiautomatic guns more like automatic ones; barring gun purchases by people on terrorist no-fly lists; banning assault-style weapons; and creating a federal database to track gun sales.
Again, that’s what Republican voters want. Those preferences have been ill-served by NRA-funded Republican politicians, however.
Republican lawmakers killed universal background-check bills considered after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. They voted against reinstating the assault weapons ban five years ago, and not a single Republican is co-sponsoring the same proposal now in the Senate. Last year, Republicans voted to roll back an Obama-era rule that would have made it harder for people with mental illness to buy a gun.
And the Republican House has already passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would force states that prefer stricter gun-control measures to cede their ability to enforce them, states’ rights be damned.
Commentators have been tiptoeing around some of these patterns, calling Congress “deadlocked” and slamming Democrats for being “unwilling to consider compromise.” Even the awe-inspiring Marjory Stoneman Douglas High student survivors, while calling for stronger gun-control measures, have appeared cautious about disproportionately picking on Republicans.
“I was very partisan in the beginning and violently attacking the GOP. I was angry and scared. Now I know that people from every party are supporting us. Everybody is demanding change,” junior Cameron Kasky tweeted when a critic accused him of spouting “Democrat talking points.”
Kasky is, of course, correct that Americans of all parties demand change. But politicians of all parties do not.
Kasky, his classmates and other survivor advocates using language urging nonpartisan “compromise” may understandably fear alienating possible allies in their righteous cause.
That may well be the right calculus in these politically tribal times.
But for the rest of us, obscuring which politicians stand in the way of that elusive “compromise” may instead allow them to keep getting away with it.