Chuck Grassley: How Come It's OK to Politicize West, Texas, but Not Boston?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 22 2013 10:47 AM

Chuck Grassley: How Come It's OK to Politicize West, Texas, but Not Boston?

Today's extended hearing on the immigration bill is about as crowded as you'd expect. Teams of pro-reform activists crowded the Hart Senate Office Building's second-floor hallway before the room opened, then filed in politely to show their enthusiasm with matching shirts. Twenty-three panelists—three more even than expected last week—are queued up for testimony. Seventy-two chairs have been provided for media covering the trial; only around 50 of the chairs are occupied. Still! That's plenty.

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The robust media presence came in handy when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy picked up a theme of the last 96 hours, asking that anyone with thoughts about Boston's bombing and its possible relevance to immigration should keep them to himself.

"Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people," said Leahy. "A nation as strong as ours can welcome the oppressed and persecuted without making compromises on our security."

One of those cruel people was, of course, Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley.

"I want you to take note of the fact that when you proposed gun legislation, I didn't accuse you of taking advantage of the Norristown (sic) situation as an excuse," snapped Grassley when he got his chance to respond. "I don't hear any criticism of people when there's 14 people killed in West, Texas, and demanding taking advantage of that tragedy to warn about more government action to make sure that fertilizer factories are safe."

It's a fair comparison, but maybe not for the reasons Grassley made it. The knock on regulators in West wasn't that they were needed and some new bill must be passed to hire them. It was that they hadn't shown up and inspected Adair Grain Inc.’s West Fertilizer Co. since 1985. So far, in Boston, there's no evidence that a new immigration bill would have thwarted the Tsarneav brothers. What we do know is that the FBI was watching Tsarnaev in 2011, while he was applying for citizenship, after a "foreign government" flagged him. We might already have had the laws in place to prevent both disasters, but didn't make use of them.

(Photo by me.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.