In a recent interview on my radio program, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) was agitated. Desperate to provide cover to House Republicans for torpedoing immigration reform — the reform he once championed — he gave a series of factually incorrect answers as to why a bill could not be voted on in the House.
That is the sad case of Diaz-Balart, once an acknowledged leader in the immigration reform movement. His devotion to internal Republican Party politics has converted him into a suspect figure with declining popularity in his GOP-safe seat. He has become the Latino mask of the GOP's “NO” on immigration reform — and the voters in his district are not happy.
The House calendar did not permit it, he said. But the calendar is altered all the time to accommodate bills that the Speaker wishes to bring to the floor. When asked why the calendar could not be changed to accommodate an immigration vote, Diaz-Balart’s answer was tautological. The House's agenda could not accommodate an immigration vote because the agenda did not have an immigration vote scheduled, he said.
Diaz-Balart also grabbed on to the so-called “Hastert Rule” as if it was the last life-raft on the Titanic. This democracy-destroying rule of the Republican majority does not — supposedly — allow a vote on the floor unless a “majority of the majority” is in favor. When I pointed out that the “rule” had been set aside by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on several key votes, Diaz-Balart flat out denied that fact. He was not aware of such a deviation from the seemingly sacred Hastert Rule.
Yet Diaz-Balart voted with the Democrats when Boehner chose to ignore the Hastert Rule on at least three occasions. As the National Journal reports, Diaz-Balart voted on raising the debt ceiling, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and providing funding for Hurricane Sandy relief.
In fact, just a few weeks before our interview, the re-opening of the government was achieved by waiving this arbitrary “rule,” a reality the congressman from Florida could not possibly have forgotten. This is not exactly arcane knowledge. Anybody not in a coma on Capitol Hill knows this recent history — except, apparently, Diaz-Balart.
Meanwhile, a handful of conservative Republicans have decided that immigration reform is in the national interest, that it has deep economic and moral implications and has to be resolved as soon as possible. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) is one of them.
Denham confirmed that the House calendar can be modified at the will of leadership. He said that the Hastert Rule is waived by the Speaker when the need to pass a critical bill presents itself and that he was joining Rep. Joe Garcia's (D-Fla.) effort to pass a compromise bill (H.R. 15) that would meld parts of the bipartisan Senate immigration bill with previously approved border security measures in a bill passed by the Republican majority in the House.
When Mr. Smith came to Washington, he chose country over party, principle over partisanship. But that is not the choice of most politicians at this critical juncture in America. Now party trumps country for most members of Congress. And when you slavishly adhere to your party even if it damages the country, inevitably you will have a slippery relationship with the truth in order to justify it
Poor Diaz-Balart. Unlike Mr. Smith, he has chosen to be a good party man at the expense of his duty to the country and the wishes of at least 60 percent of his constituents. In the space of a few weeks, he's gone from the primary immigration advocate within the GOP to the Latino beard of the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party.
Perhaps Diaz-Balart has a healthy serving of karma waiting for him, however. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote: “If we suspect that a man is lying, we should pretend to believe him; for then he becomes bold and assured, lies more vigorously, and is unmasked.”
Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network.