Now that the first wave of information from the Birthright debate has passed, it is time to examine the origins of this issue and others like it a bit more closely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham first advocated changing the Constitution to rescind the automatic citizenship afforded any baby born in the United States. He quickly received the support of several Republicans, most prominently Arizona Republicans John McCain and John Kyl, to at least hold hearings on the issue.
Neither Graham nor the others advocating hearings have provided any credible data to back up their unsubstantiated claims that "thousands" of expectant Mexican citizens are coming to the United States to have their babies to serve as "anchors" for the rest of their family. And their rhetoric represents another ugly chapter in the sporadic 150-year efforts to deny citizenship to immigrants or minorities.
Graham, McCain, and Kyl share a certain pedigree that may explain their behavior in the U.S. Senate. They are all what I call "Gingrich Senators."
Gingrich Senators include 33 former and current GOP lawmakers who served in the House of Representatives prior to their Senate careers. Furthermore, they were all elected to the House after 1978.
The year, 1978, is so crucial because that was when Newt Gingrich was first elected to the U.S. House. The Georgia Republican reasoned that Republicans would only become the majority party in the House if they tore it down and rebuilt it in their own image. The Republican tsunami of 1994 that launched Gingrich into the Speaker's office proved he was correct.
My research shows that these 31 senators (18 of whom are still serving) have had an incredible effect on the Senate.
Based on all non-consensus roll call votes taken in the Senate, my research finds that they are nearly twice as conservative as their fellow Republicans. They are less likely than their fellow Republicans to support the confirmation of Democratic presidents' appointees and to work across the aisle to find legislative solutions. They are more likely to support filibusters than their fellow Republicans.
To understand why today's Senate appears to be as cutthroat, as mean, and as caught up in the mess of partisanship as the House (not what the framers had intended), one needs look no further than the Gingrich Senators. Undoubtedly, some Democrats and some other Republicans can also be blamed for the squalor of the current Senate, but no other set of characteristics explain this behavior as well as those shared by the Gingrich Senators.
Three examples from the past 18 months clearly show their impact: