Continental Divides

Playing Follow the Leader

Whatever’s left of the Grand Old Party has become the reason that the border calamity continues

By John McCaslin

Talk about gestural politics, how about Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte directing Montana’s National Guard to identify the means to support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with his state’s border crisis.

As if the mighty Texas Military Department, composed of the Texas Army National Guard (19,000 highly-trained troops assigned to 117 armories, with a new border base announced last week), Texas Air National Guard (the 149th Fighter Wing is the nation’s premier state air component), and elite Texas State Guard — their combined 2023 budget surpassing $1.85 billion — is in need of Montana’s limited resources.

Then again, we’re in the middle of a wildering political season unlike any seen before, and our Helena governor is just the latest Republican to fall in line, traveling to the Texas border to declare that national security “is the number one responsibility of the federal government.”

What the U.S. congressman-turned-Montana governor failed to mention is that ongoing dysfunction within whatever’s left of the Grand Old Party has become the reason the border calamity continues.

In crafting the long-awaited $20 billion bipartisan Border Security Act of 2024, which was brought up for a Senate vote earlier this month, Republican negotiators demanded and were awarded an unbending package containing the sharpest of teeth.

Its austere trajectory was immediately embraced by the director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the National Border Patrol Council representing 18,000 agents and personnel for codifying “into law authorities U.S. Border Patrol Agents never had in the past.

“This will allow us to remove single adults expeditiously and without a lengthy judicial review, which historically has required the release of these individuals into the interior of the U.S. This alone with drop illegal border crossings nationwide and will allow a great many of our agents to get back to detecting and apprehending those who want to cross our borders illegally and evade apprehension.”

Montana Sen. Steve Daines, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, became an enthusiastic backer of the strict legislation, so much so that he stamped his name on the bill.

“I’m co-sponsoring the ‘Secure the Border Act’ to help put an end to the southern border crisis,” Daines declared in September 2023. “This bill would finally finish building the border wall, tighten asylum standards, increase the number of Border Patrol Agents, help agents identify and prevent dangerous criminals from crossing our border and much more. It’s time to pass this bill & secure the border.”

Montana’s junior senator didn’t stop there, warning in a November Daily Inter Lake op-ed that “congressional Democrats need to get serious quickly about our nation’s national security,” advice he repeated only last month in Newsweek magazine.

Then suddenly, out of the Mar-a-Lago blue, an embattled Donald Trump proceeded to thrust his dagger into the long-awaited act, fearing that tackling the border crisis now would hand an election year “gift” to his Democratic opponent. Not to mention one of his campaign themes has him riding a white horse back into the White House and deporting however many illegal aliens President Joe Biden allowed in.

Talk about follow the leader. In one of the fastest legislative flip-flops so far this century, Daines dutifully ditched his coveted national security act, explaining: “Joe Biden has all the tools he needs to solve the southern border crisis.”

Seriously? And here I thought I’d exposed every example of political phoniness and deception there was – on both sides of the aisle – in my syndicated Inside the Beltway column or whenever Rush Limbaugh invited me to guest-host his national radio show. But this takes the cake. And to think Daines and company dropped the ball on the heels of 14,965 communist Chinese showing up on our border between October and December.

Now word from Washington is that Biden is preparing to take executive action to curb the flow of migrants, which if true would leave Trump squirming even more in his witness stands. On top of that, Biden is making a rare visit to the border on Thursday, on the same day Trump is scheduled to go. Competing campaign photo-ops, in other words.

All said and done, the Senate vote to advance the act failed 49 to 50 – four steadfast Republicans, who put national security ahead of presidential politics, joining 45 Democrats, including Montana Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the powerful subcommittee on Defense. The remainder of Republicans kowtowed literally overnight to their unelected boss.

Montana’s “junior senator [Steve Daines] in particular [talks] about how the border needs to be secured and now he put out a press release he’s not going to support this for political reasons,” Tester told one congressional reporter in passing.

“I think that’s crazy. It’s not why people sent us here.”

John McCaslin is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and author.