The Skinny

On Hold

McSally's first border-security bill stalls in the GOP Congress

Congresswoman Martha McSally's first border-security bill is on hold in the House of Representatives as conservatives complain that it's a distraction from an upcoming showdown with President Barack Obama.

McSally promised to lead the fight to secure the border in Southern Arizona, but it appears as though the Southern Arizona Republican is having some trouble rounding up GOP support for the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015, which would seek to gain operational control of the entire southern border within five years, provide additional funding for using the National Guard on the border, and penalize the political appointees of the Homeland Security Department if they don't meet certain goals.

House leadership said the Secure Our Borders First Act of 2015, which was co-sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), was pulled because of a winter storm that rolled though D.C. a few weeks ago. But now that lawmakers have returned to the Hill, the legislation has not been rescheduled for a vote, according to McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak.

That may be because House leaders are having trouble rounding up the votes for the bill, which isn't expected to have much Democratic support because it commits more resources to walls and manpower but doesn't address the status of the millions of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the bill was "not a serious effort at legislating border security—and its authors know it. The bill is extreme to the point of being unworkable; if enacted, it would actually leave the border less secure. The bill sets mandatory and highly prescriptive standards that the Border Patrol itself regards as impossible to achieve, undermines the Department of Homeland Security's capacity to adapt to emerging threats, and politicizes tactical decisions."

Democrats aren't the only ones unhappy with the legislation. Some conservatives want to focus on a bill that would cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security past Feb. 27 unless Obama agrees to end his deferred deportation programs that could shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Conservative immigration hawks such as Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham say that if McSally's bill passes, it could serve as a distraction from the Homeland Security funding bill because lawmakers will be able to say that they did something about illegal immigration.

"The McCaul border bill had become a shiny object, distracting nearly everyone in Washington from the fight over the President's dangerous and unlawful amnesty," said Needham. "The House was right to pull the bill. Congress must reassert its constitutional authority over the executive branch. Advancing any immigration measure, even border security, before reining in this lawless president is putting the cart before the horse."

Incidentally, that Homeland Security funding bill isn't going anywhere, either. Last week, Senate Democrats filibustered the legislation on three separate votes.

McSally declined to comment directly on Heritage Action's allegations about the political motivations behind the bill, but she did say that lawmakers shouldn't "play politics" with border security.

"For people living along our border who have cartels and traffickers moving through their property, the dangers of our unsecured border are more than a talking point or something to play politics with—they're a reality," McSally said in a prepared statement. "Last week, 21 members of Congress saw that first-hand when they came to tour our border at my invitation and met with local ranchers and border residents. Informing other members of Congress about what we experience in Southern Arizona is critical to getting this legislation over the finish line, and I'll continue working to make the voices of our residents heard and make our border more secure."

Hard Knocks

City Council votes to allow developers to demolish apartment building to build larger parking lot behind Broadway Village shopping center

Saying they had only bad options in front of them, the Tucson City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to allow the demolition of a small apartment building so that the owners of Broadway Village shopping center could expand their parking lot.

Some residents of the Broadmoor-Broadway Village Neighborhood south of Broadway Village at Country Club Road and Broadway Boulevard opposed the demolition, saying that demolishing the 10-unit Americana Apartments building would counteract infill efforts and reduce their quality of life.

"I beg you to protect our lovely little neighborhood by denying this request," said Broadmoor-Broadway Village Neighborhood resident Ann Pattison.

But others spoke in favor of the parking lot expansion.

Ari Shapiro, who owns the pizza restaurant Falora and the bar Sidecar at Broadway Village, said that although he is no fan of what he called "car culture," he nonetheless he supported the additional parking for his customers.

Shapiro said the current parking lot is "woefully insufficient."

"There is not a night that goes by that we don't hear from a couple coming down from the Foothills and 'We circled three times and we were about to leave when we randomly found a parking spot,'" Shapiro told the council. "It is a restriction on the growth of our business. It's true that I support alternative means of transportation and I wish that everyone took the light rail and the bus. But that's not the reality."

Without an expansion, the parking situation will likely become even more troubled once a planned Natural Grocers opens up in the Broadway Village center.

While council members expressed sympathy to the concerns of the neighbors, they said they had little choice but to agree to the demolition of the apartments and a zoning change for the parcel because the property owners had said that if they didn't get approval to build a parking lot, they would still knock down the apartments, build a small office building, and use the rest of the space for parking. While that would require more investment than the owners wanted to make, it would still get them most of the additional parking they were seeking.

"If we say no, they are going to expand the parking anyway, and it will be a less appealing project for the neighborhood," said Steve Kozachik, a Democrat who represents midtown Ward 6.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich echoed those sentiments.

"This is not about retaining the apartments or the existing character," said Uhlich, a Democrat who represents north-central Ward 3. "That is not an option in either scenario. Because of that, this is going to be the best result that we can accomplish for this particular parcel."

"Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel" airs every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on KGUN-9. This week's show features highlights from a January League of Women Voters panel about the 2014 election that included candidates, political consultants and journalists.

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