The opening sketch of this week’s Saturday Night Live is an update of the famous ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ song explaining how a bill becomes a law. The sketch, which is a send up of Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, is very well done in many ways. It captures the ethos of the original cartoon and Jay Pharoah’s Obama impersonation keeps getting better. It features performances from two of the strongest members of this year’s cast, Bobby Moynihan and Kenan Thompson. As comedy, it works. It’s funny.
As political commentary, however, it couldn’t be more wrong about how today’s Congress works, particularly as it relates to immigration reform. Let’s review:
“BILL: Well first I go to the House, and they vote on me. But then I need from the Senate a majority.”
Actually, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill in June 2013. The House has spent the last 17 months refusing to consider or vote on the Senate bill or any other substantial legislation on immigration reform.
“BILL: And if I pass the legislative test, then I wind up on the President’s desk… BOY: President Obama what’s the big idea? That bill was trying to become a law.”
In the sketch, once the bill reaches Obama’s desk, he pushes the bill down the steps. But this is the opposite of what actually happened. Obama was desperate to see an immigration bill — of virtually any type — cross his desk. In May 2013, he reached a tentative deal with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, which would have been substantially more conservative than the Senate bill. It was ultimately rejected by Republican House leadership.
“BILL: Don’t you have to go through Congress at some point? EXECUTIVE ORDER: Oh that’s adorable, you still think that’s how government works.”
The implication here is that presidents before Obama didn’t use executive action for major policy areas. In fact, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan both used executive orders to protect undocumented immigrants. In 1989, Bush’s order protected about 40% of the undocumented population, roughly the same percentage as Obama’s order.
“BILL: Look at the midterm elections, people clearly don’t want this.”
Actually, the majority of people who voted in the midterms said the opposite. According to a national election poll, “57 percent of midterm voters say most illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.” Less than 40% favored deportation, which the president’s order protects some undocumented immigrants against.
Of course, as a parody, the SNL skit isn’t required to be fully fact checked. But that’s not how it’s being treated in the media or among politicians. BuzzFeed’s article on the sketch is entitled: “This “Schoolhouse Rock” Sketch On “SNL” Shows Just How Messed Up Our Government Is.” And Ted Cruz is already citing it in television appearances.