02/01/2013 09:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- The Immigration Coalition

We seem to have a gang problem on Capitol Hill once again.

Seriously, there are 535 people up there who are paid to use language well (stripped of all else, this seems a basic part of their jobs), and all they can come up with over and over again to describe a bipartisan group -- any bipartisan group, mind you -- is the formulaic "gang of [insert number]" description? Nobody's got a more original idea that that? Really?

I speak, of course, of the current "Gang of Eight," a bipartisan group of senators who put forth a proposal on comprehensive immigration reform this week. More on this later. But can't we come up with a snappier name than that?

In the first place, the original "Gang of Four" came out of Communist China, so it really doesn't seem like the best model for our democratic government to look to when searching for a label. In the second place, even putting that part of it aside, the Gang of Four was a faction, which is the exact opposite of a "bipartisan" group. It really makes no sense at all to use the "Gang of..." label for these groups in Congress.

So I challenge everyone to come up with some better ideas for what to call these senators working toward immigration reform. "The Eight Amigos" maybe? Well, maybe not. "Eight Is Enough" sounds a little negative, I suppose. Something that rhymes with "eight," perhaps? The "Immigration Coalition" has a nice ring to it. Once you start to play around with it, all sorts of ideas pop up.

I've been reading lots of early American history, and what they used in the first few decades of politics in the new United States springs to mind (although you've got to note the "O" at the end -- a different term than if it ended in "A") -- "The Junto." But not enough would recognize its historical origins, so it probably wouldn't work these days.

I throw the question open to all of you. A challenge to come up with a better term than the tired old "Gang of..." designation. Please offer up your suggestions in the comments, for all to see. I can't believe politicians (of all people) are this mundane at creating a soundbite, so maybe we can do a better job. What do you say?


The happiest Democrats of the week are undoubtedly Massachusetts Democrats, as the news just broke that Scott Brown will not be running in the special election to fill John Kerry's Senate seat. But since this isn't really anything "impressive" that they did, they aren't really eligible for the MIDOTW award.

Instead, we're going to give a "thanks for your four years of service" award this week. Not exactly a "lifetime achievement" award, since bigger things may be on the horizon, but more of an appreciation award for a job well done.

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. She probably deserved the award more last week, for her strong testimony before Congress, but last week was inauguration week, so she really didn't have a chance.

President Obama naming his biggest Democratic rival to the highest honor in his Cabinet was hailed at the time as a "Team of Rivals" move, especially after the legions of Hillary fans had been disappointed that she hadn't been named Obama's running mate. While Hillary had healed the divisions within the party to a large extent by the 2008 Democratic nominating convention, Obama naming Hillary for Secretary of State cemented the two halves of the party back together in an impressive way.

Hillary proved more than up to the job, and exits after setting the record for "most-traveled" Secretary of State in all U.S. history. We're sorry to see her go, and we "wish her well in her future endeavors" -- which could very well lead her to the office her husband once held.

Clinton will, no doubt, take some time off to rest up, and will likely be a presence either selling a memoir or out on the speaking circuit for the next few years. More power to her! She has certainly earned it.

To the other accolades being offered upon her exit from the State Department, we add a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Well done, Madam Secretary, well done indeed.

[Congratulate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton via the White House contact page (since she's leaving her job), to let them know you appreciated her service.]


In the "strange bedfellows" department, we have the Kentucky Democrats who are apparently considering teaming up with the Tea Party in an effort to take down Mitch McConnell. The political gamesmanship is awfully Byzantine, and does have the possibility of backfiring (if the Tea Party candidate actually won the general election), but for now we're just going to keep an eye on the situation to see what happens.

In fact, we're feeling a little timid about our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week, which we're going to offer up with a rather large caveat. Because, so far, the story only exists as nebulous unproven accusations. If true, they'll certainly merit further MDDOTW awards in the future. If not true, then we'll rescind this week's award, and offer up a public apology.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey took a few plane rides down to the Caribbean on a friend's plane, it seems. The friend is now under federal investigation, and the F.B.I. has raided his offices. Menendez has already (belatedly) paid his friend back for the airfare, but the accusations are a bit uglier than just campaign finance hinkeyness. Salon ran the story with the self-explanatory headline "So, About That Underage Prostitute Thing" which shows how truly ugly this could get for Menendez.

You'd think a senator availing himself of the services of a prostitute would be a career-ending thing, but this actually isn't strictly true these days (see: Vitter, David). But if the "underage" thing is proven true, it could force him out of office early. Which would mean Governor Chris Christie would get to pick his successor.

So -- if these accusations prove to be true -- we're tentatively awarding the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week to Bob Menendez. If he proves his innocence, then we will rescind the award and offer our apologies. But if true, "disappointing" doesn't even begin to cover it.

[Contact Senator Bob Menendez on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 243 (2/1/13)

Okay, a couple of odds and ends before we get started. First, out condolences to the Bush family, as the news just broke of the passing of Barney, beloved former First Dog. As always, we are strictly non-partisan in our love for First Pets, and we sincerely offer our condolences at Barney's passing.

It didn't take long for it to become painfully apparent that Harry Reid blew it on filibuster reform, did it? Sigh.

An update from last week (which also didn't take long) -- former Colorado Republican politician Tom Tancredo has, sadly, announced he is backing out of his promise to smoke some pot legally in his state. Seems his family wasn't too happy about the prospect. Maybe they should all just "mellow out." Ahem.

Moving right along, this week's talking points are on a single subject -- the "subject of the week," really. When you think about it, it really is kind of astonishing that the senators were goaded into moving faster than the president on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. I guess Marco Rubio didn't want to have Obama "steal his thunder" a second time on the issue.

But for whatever reason, both parties are actually constructively talking about passing actual legislation that seems to be adequately wide in scope (for once). I'm so optimistic I wrote a column earlier in the week pegging the chances for actually passing immigration reform this year at 80-85 percent. We'll see whether this rosy view is justified, as the year winds onwards. I also wrote a historical article, just because I had a bunch of quotes handy from the 1790s on the issue, so check that out if you're in a historical frame of mind.

But enough plugging of previous columns! Let's get on with our suggestions for how Democrats should be talking about the immigration subject. While, as usual, these are offered up in the hopes that Democrats booked for television interviews in the next week might take them to heart, they also come in handy for anyone discussing politics around the water cooler as well.


   Us and Them

This first one is from President Obama's speech this Tuesday, and should be repeated whenever faced with anyone who forgets the basics of the argument.

"We are a nation of immigrants. Let's all remember that. The president recently pointed this out, saying, quote, it's easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of 'us' versus 'them.' And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of 'us' used to be 'them.' We forget that. Unquote. What is your last name? Where did your family come from originally? Unless you're a full-blooded Native American, your family came to America at some point as immigrants. Would you have wanted the people already here to have said 'no' to your ancestors, and turned them away? Think about your answer to that carefully."


   Out of the shadows

This second one is also from Obama's speech. It's a great phrase, and should be repeated as often as possible.

"I join with the president in calling for action on comprehensive immigration reform. The time, as the president said, is now. It is time for us, as he put it, to bring 11 million people living here 'out of the shadows' and into the light. Ask someone living in those shadows what it is like, and whether they'd pay a fine and wait to become full members of the American society. We will all benefit from getting rid of the shadow economy within our borders. Bring them into the light!"


   Pay their debt to society

This is a phrase that everyone can relate to -- or at least, everyone who has ever paid a speeding ticket.

"Some -- as usual -- will call any attempt to reform immigration laws 'amnesty.' This is incorrect. Amnesty, properly defined, means forgiving and pardoning wrongdoing. What we are calling for instead is for people to pay for their crime. Yes, immigrants not here legally have indeed committed a crime. But part of the American system is the ability to pay your debt to society for such crimes, to rehabilitate yourself to being a lawful member of society once again. Some say that the 11 million people here illegally should pay a very harsh price for their crime, and be deported. Can you imagine what an effort it would take to round up 11 million people and move them out of this country? Can you picture that, for just one second? We believe that people should pay a penalty for this crime, but we believe that fining them and making them pay back taxes is enough. Most of those 11 million people would be happy to do so, and happy to pay such a debt to the American society they long to be full members of. So, sure, let them pay for their crime -- but let them pay in dollars and cents rather than in breaking up families and rousting 11 million people out of our country."


   These things cost money

This is a factor that often gets lost in the debate.

"You know, if we really wanted to, we could indeed hermetically seal our southern border. It's certainly not beyond our means to do so, when it comes to what we'd have to do. Even low-tech solutions would work just fine. We could expand the Border Patrol by a factor of 100, or even 1,000, and we'd have enough people to monitor every inch of our border every minute of the day. We could likewise create enough agents to track every single person here on every type of visa, so we'd know the day anyone's visa expired and be able to show up at their door. We could adequately police every workplace in the country, too. But these things cost money. There's a price tag to doing so. The real test of how serious anyone is who suggests such monumental expansion of enforcement comes when you ask them how much they'd be willing to increase budget spending to achieve their aims. Because a 100 percent sealed border won't come cheap."


   Obama has improved enforcement

This one really sticks in the craw of Republicans, but it doesn't make it any less true. Follow up the last talking point with this one:

"Under President Obama, it is undeniable that border enforcement has improved dramatically. Illegal crossings are down 80 percent in a decade. More people have been deported under Obama than any other president in American history. Things aren't perfect, but they've certainly gotten a lot better under this president. You can argue that the economy and the recession is a big cause for the flow of people illegally crossing the border is down, but you can't argue with the fact that things have, indeed, gotten a lot better under Obama."


   Digging their own grave

This one is pure politics. The politics of fear, in fact. Fear of political irrelevancy.

"To get out of a hole, the first rule is always to stop digging. Some Republicans have realized this. Some have not. Some, in fact, have grabbed a bigger shovel and are digging even more furiously than ever. The Republican Party truly needs to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform. They need to do so for their own political survival. If the effort falls apart, Republicans should realize that no matter how hard they try to paint the Democrats as the bad guys, they still are going to pay the price at the ballot box in all upcoming elections. Latinos aren't stupid -- they can see who is really fighting for a solution, and who is fighting just to appear to be fighting. Any Republicans who doubt this can look at the demographics of states like New Mexico and Colorado and Nevada to see the future of their party. And the next states which could flip blue -- states like Arizona and Texas -- may put the White House out of reach for Republicans for an entire generation, at the very least. Latinos aren't going to be happy with 'we tried, but Democrats killed the effort,' folks. That's not the way to convince them to support your party. That hole the Republican Party has been digging for a long time now may in fact turn out to be the party's grave. Republicans have this one last chance to avoid such a fate. It would behoove them to take it."


   Path to citizenship

This was an early victory from the... um... "Immigration Coalition"... yeah, that's it!... in the Senate. Democrats should not back down one inch on this one, as this really is the whole ball game.

"Republicans are going to attempt to water down any bill which appears out of bipartisan negotiations, both in the Senate and the House. While certain aspects of any comprehensive immigration reform bill will be up for discussion, there is one that will definitely not be on the table. There must -- and I stress the word must -- be a 'path to citizenship' included for the 11 million people to take. Full citizenship. Full rights. Which includes voting rights. Latinos are just beginning to realize their full potential in the political arena in this country, and this is only going to grow in the future, no matter what happens. To fully realize their potential, the end of the road has to be citizenship -- no ifs, ands, or buts. Anything short of this will be an automatic deal-breaker for Democrats, so my advice to Republicans is: don't even bother to bring it up, it's a non-starter. That's where these negotiations need to begin."


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