Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

An Outbreak of Bipartisanship on Gun Control and Immigration Reform

Michael J. Gerson


April 12, 2013

By Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast for the Center for Public Justice on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa. 

Just when it seemed that bipartisanship was dead in politics and progress on major issues impossible, Washington is seeing a minor outbreak of hope. Two bipartisan groups of Senators have hashed out compromises on gun control and rewriting our immigration laws.  Both debates are moving forward in Congress.

There are a number of reasons for this progress. 

First, the Senate is working in the way the Senate was designed to work. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the authors of the expanded background check bill, both have a history of strong support for gun rights. But neither is up for reelection in this cycle, insulating them from the immediate pressure of some of their supporters. Their compromise is further evidence of the wisdom of six-year Senate terms. 

Both the issues of background checks and immigration reform have a momentum rooted in recent events. It is hard to imagine that new gun laws under consideration would have prevented the horrible Newtown killings. But those killings focused the attention of the country on the patchwork of federal gun laws and revealed some irrational gaps that should be filled.

In addition, nearly everyone believes our current immigration system is broken, ineffective and inhumane. And Republicans have an additional motive to confront the problem. In 2004, the Republican candidate for president lost the Hispanic vote by 9 percentage points. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost that vote by 44 points. This level of support among Latinos is not consistent with Republicans remaining a national party. Sometimes politicians end up doing the right thing because they have exhausted the alternatives. 

In each of these cases, legislation also has the momentum of common sense. It makes little sense to apply criminal background checks to gun purchases while exempting sales at gun shows or on the Internet. This is a net with large holes, purposely ripped. Similarly, Republicans and Democrats are coming to the realization that an orderly immigration system—tough on enforcement, but generous to those living in the shadows—would benefit our country both morally and economically. 

Serious obstacles remain. The House of Representatives is a different world from the Senate.  House elections come every two years, and interest groups have a stronger voice. House Republicans will face a choice: to improve these bills or obstruct them. On immigration reform in particular, a 1,500 page bill will provoke plenty of intense debate. And on a matter of this importance, a full debate is a good thing. 

But obstructionism should not be an end in itself. It is the job of Congress to consider the common good, not respond to the most strident ideological voices. But for members of Congress to understand this point, they will also need to hear from citizens who support reasonable compromise on the pressing issues of our time.

—Michael J. Gerson is nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”