Editorials

April 5, 2014

EDITORIAL: Chamber of the absurd

Eight years in a row U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has tried and failed to get a commemorative resolution passed for legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Eight years in a row U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has tried and failed to get a commemorative resolution passed for legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez.

Among the 427 resolutions that Congress has passed so far this session is one congratulating Sporting Kansas City, a soccer club, for winning the Major League Soccer Cup in 2013.

Others honor the lives and legacies of Czech President Václav Havel and South Africa President Nelson Mandela. Still others designate Feb. 28 as "Rare Disease Day" and March 11 as "World Plumbing Day."

One might reasonably conclude that the senators will support a feel-good resolution honoring just about anyone or anything.

Perhaps that is what Menendez thought the first time he tried to get the Senate to support a commemorative resolution honoring Chavez on the anniversary of his birth, March 31. Or even the second time.

But by this year, when Menendez failed to get support from Republican senators for his resolution, it must have been crystal clear that some people and topics are just too touchy for today's hyper-partisan political landscape.

According to his staff, Menendez decided on Monday not to let another year pass without a fight. He called out the opponents of this resolution publicly on the Senate floor. The result was a few minutes of absurdist political theater in which Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama tried to insert politically charged language into the innocuous symbolic document and Menendez protested.

"This is not about Cesar Chavez," Menendez said of the amended language in a floor debate. "This is about immigration."

Indeed, it was. Sessions, on behalf of Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, asked for an amendment of the largely biographical text stating that Chavez "strongly believed in enforcing immigration law" and that he supported a secure southern border with Mexico and encouraged members of the United Farm Workers to report instances of undocumented laborers.

These things are true, but certainly taken out of the historical context in which they occurred. And they're not at all relevant to today's debate over immigration reform.

But it seems that Sessions and Vitter weren't concerned about historical accuracy so much as scoring points in the early days of what is expected to be a nasty mid-term election that could put Republicans in control of the Senate.

A similar bill in the house sponsored by Los Angeles Democrat Rep. Tony Cardenas was sent to committee and stalled.

The treatment of a legitimate American hero perfectly illustrates why the GOP continues to repel Latino voters, especially in states like California and Colorado. Why pick a fight over a commemoration for a beloved and revered Mexican-American?

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