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Border Skirmish

House of Representatives scrambles to pass border bill, local candidates spar over whether it was serious effort to resolve crisis

As most Skinny readers know, there's been a bit of a crisis on the border with unaccompanied minors fleeing gang violence and other troubles in Central America and crossing into the United States because they hope they'll find some kind of asylum here.

Republicans in the House of Representatives struggled last week to pass legislation dealing with the border crisis. The initial effort fell apart because Democrats found the legislation to be too draconian while Republican conservatives didn't find it draconian enough.

As a result, House leadership had to delay the August recess and cobble together new legislation under the direction of hard-core conservatives such as Iowa Republican Steve King and Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann. Using a maneuver normally reserved for declaring martial law, Speaker John Boehner rushed two bills through the process in one day.

One of the bills provided about $694 million for new border security, including additional resources to put National Guard troops on the border and assist the Border Patrol as well as humanitarian programs for refugee children. It also amended a 2008 law that created a complex legal process for deporting undocumented immigrants from countries that don't share a border with the U.S. That law was a big part of the reason that so many young refugees have entered the U.S. in recent months; word got around the Central American countries they are fleeing that it's possible to put off deportation and remain in the U.S. as the legal process plays out.

The bill passed the House with only one Democrat voting in favor and only four Republicans voting against it. Democrats had a variety of objections, including concerns that the bill didn't provide enough money to help with the refugee children; that the proposed changes to the 2008 law would send legitimate refugees back into harm's way in their home countries; and that it allowed the Border Patrol to sidestep federal environmental regulations along the border.

The second bill is more troublesome for the GOP's ongoing problems with attracting Latino voters. It blocked any more immigrants brought into the country as children from applying to be part of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, which has allowed the so-called DREAM Act kids to remain in the U.S. without fear of prosecution.

It also blocked the White House from expanding that program to new classes of immigrants, as the White House has recently signaled it may do in light of the House of Representatives' failure to act on comprehensive immigration reform.

Neither bill had much chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Congressman Ron Barber voted against both of the bills, saying that alternative bipartisan legislation he signed onto would be a better approach.

"I had hopes that House leaders would address this serious border crisis by acting to secure our border and to deal with the humanitarian needs of those who have come here. But that did not happen," said Barber, a Democrat who is finishing his first full term this year. "Instead, we were presented with proposals that fail to address any of these problems in a meaningful way."

Republican Martha McSally, who is the odds-on favorite to win the Aug. 26 GOP primary that will determine who will face Barber in Southern Arizona's Congressional District 2, said Barber "failed Southern Arizonans by voting against a bill to help secure our border and provide badly needed resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis."

But in an email to the Weekly, McSally said she would have voted the same way as Barber on the second bill, which would have blocked more DREAMers from applying for the DACA program and prevented the president from expanding the program.

"While I oppose the President's unilateral action on DACA, Congress needs to stop bickering and do its job to secure our borders, reform our legal immigration system, and come together on a bipartisan solution to address those living here illegally that is fair and upholds the rule of law," McSally said. "Any solution should show compassion to kids who were brought here illegally and know no other country as their home. Because Friday's bill has no chance in the Senate and only serves to distract from solving these problems in a thoughtful and pragmatic way, I would have voted no."

The funding bill didn't appear to have much of a chance in the Senate either—The Hill reported that Senate President Harry Reid said that "if the House does pass a bill, I can't imagine it could be cleared on either side over here"—but McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said that McSally believed senators might find a way to work with the legislation because the U.S. Senate "was in fact working on its own version of a supplemental appropriations bill before it left town for August recess, showing there is interest in both chambers to pass a funding bill to deal with the border crisis."

One of Barber's other objections to the bill was procedural: He said House leadership shouldn't have used a provision related to martial law to advance the legislation in just one day.

"We should always have time to discuss, debate and fully understand a bill before it is brought up for a vote," Barber said. "This is unacceptable and one more example of the dysfunction in Washington that I am fighting against. Congress should not go home but instead stay in session until a real bipartisan bill is presented, vetted and debated in a transparent manner in the light of day."

McSally often complains about process when she's on the campaign trail, but in this case, she believed the emergency rush was justified because while McSally "firmly believes Congress should stick to regular order for legislation and would rather have seen Friday's bill go through that process, our border crisis is immediate and this bill would provide badly needed funds to address it," according to Ptak.

Shelley Kais, who is one of two other Republicans in the race, said she would have voted in favor of both bills.

"When presidents from the Latin American countries tell us that our legislation is confusing and sending a message to their people that they will be able to secure a pathway to citizenship in the United States, we must clarify the legislation, which is impacting our border with a surge of illegal crossings," Kais said via email.

DARKNESS VISIBLE

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Smith rails against anonymous political spending

The Weekly reported last week on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred DuVal's proposed "dark money pledge," which would require candidates to donate campaign funds to charity if they are the beneficiary of spending by political groups that don't have to reveal the sources of their funding ("Shadowy Support," July 31).

Dark-money groups have spent more than a million dollars in this year's state elections.

One of the biggest targets of the dark money groups is Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Smith, who has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars spent against him. Smith has complained that the dark-money groups have links back to fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Ducey.

Smith dismissed the idea of signing DuVal's pledge—"I think that's a good thing for Fred DuVal, who doesn't worry about dark money" he said when the Weekly asked him about it—but he condemned the anonymous spending.

"I don't like dark money," Smith said. "I have no idea if anybody would show up on my behalf. We actually follow the rules with independent expenditures. If one came out and was negative on somebody, I would ask them to stop."

Smith said "Dark money is ruining our country and it's running our state."

He called the idea that dark-money contributors were just exercising their First Amendment rights "BS."

"I put my name out there and I stand by my statements," Smith said. "It's cowardly. If you want to say something, have the courage to stand behind it. I don't care if someone wants to spend $500,000. Just say this is who I am and this is what I'm saying. I don't think money is killing elections, I think anonymity in money is what hurts us. When someone threw out the Federalist Papers and all that—that's an insult to our Founding Fathers, to equate what those gentlemen went through, the real risk. They were committing treason by putting out the Federalist Papers. They would have been hung on sight without a trial. These people today want to hide behind something because they don't want to be uncomfortable. That's bull."

Last week, the Clean Elections Commission voted to look further into a complaint by Smith that Ducey has illegally coordinated with dark money groups. The Maricopa County Elections Department has already dismissed a similar complaint, but Smith suggested that might have something to do with the fact that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is supporting Ducey in the governor's race.

PROFILE IN COURAGE

GOP Gubernatorial candidate Frank Riggs confesses that he roots for ASU

At last week's Tucson gubernatorial debate, former California congressman Frank Riggs offered perhaps the gutsiest comment of the evening when he told the crowd that he was the "proud father of three Sun Devil kids."

Riggs added: "Sorry, folks, but go Devils!"

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