It was bound to happen eventually. The wave of national unity and reconciliation that settled upon the United States and in Washington, D.C. upon Capitol Hill in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings has started to fray in the face of policy struggles. On Monday in the Senate, the Boston bombings were invoked in partisan debate, this time over immigration.
The exchange was longstanding during a Senate hearing on investigation. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Friday in his opening remarks that reviewing the issue of immigration was important, "particularly in light of all that’s happening in Massachusetts right now and over the last week." This remark would set off a firestorm of other remarks, shattering the veil of togetherness that Capitol Hill had managed to put on in the public light.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Va.) began Monday’s hearing with the statement, "Last week, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform began to exploit the Boston Marathon bombing. I urge restraint in that regard." His colleague, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was less charitable in his remarks during the hearing criticizing those who "are pointing to what happened, the terrible tragedy in Boston, as, I would say, an excuse for not doing a bill or delaying it many months or years."
Grassley vigorously protested, shouting, "I never said that!" multiple times. Schumer responded, "I don’t mean you, Mr. Grassley." Leahy had to bang his gavel to restore order in the hearing.
Grassley was not the first to invoke the Boston Marathon bombings with regards to immigration. On the very next day after the bombing, Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) brought up the bombing in regards to immigration reform. King said, "Some of the speculation that has come out is that yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa. If that’s the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture."
Another politician who invoked the specter of Boston in policy debate was Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday regarding immigration reform. In it, he wrote:
"Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”
While it was expected that the bipartisan unity that had settled upon Capitol Hill would fade in the weeks ahead, bringing up the Boston bombing in relation to immigration is just shameful for both sides. At this point in the investigation it is unknown whether the alleged suspects of the Boston bombing, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, even had any intentions of attacks in the United States when they initially immigrated. It is quite possible (and very likely) that the whole plan developed while they were in the United States due to other factors such as the difficult time Tamerlan was having in the United States, or their very young age upon arrival.
However Washington is Washington and both sides of the aisle will never pass on a good opportunity to jockey for position on Capitol Hill.