The complicated machinery of politics will sometimes require an elite approach so that things will get past their regular gridlock. That is when a group like the Gang of Eight comes into the legislative branch and into the public eye. There are key points that ordinary Americans should know about this political force, such as their history, what laws they have protected, and the reason for their existence.
What Is the Gang of Eight: The Leaders of the Free World?
In less than formal terms, the Gang of Eight stands for a group of leaders within the United States Congress who discuss and form plans on a particular topic. For the sake of fairness, it is a bipartisan group made equally of four Democrats and four Republicans. There have been multiple versions of the Gang of Eight throughout congressional history.
The Intelligence Gang Of Eight
The first mention of this group came up during the Bush administration, specifically in regards to the warrantless surveillance program made after 9/11. Congress passed the authorization of bills that expanded the use of military and intelligence resources in order to combat terrorism.
From there, the executive branch created a series of secret programs authorized by President George W. Bush that allowed access to major telecommunications networks that includes phone, email, text, and internet activity. According to normal U.S. national defense codes when dealing with matters of national intelligence, the President is required to inform the members of the congressional intelligence committees of any activity.
However, when the President deems it necessary to limit the access of information, it has allowed the President to report the findings to the following eight members, who are sworn to secrecy:
Fiscal Crisis Gang Of Eight
In 2012, the nation was on the road to a “fiscal cliff” made from expiring Bush-era tax cuts and planned spending cuts made a year earlier. The combination of the two would have made a new recession similar to the one formed in 2008. It would have economically affected around 90 percent of U.S. taxpayers, with a possible tax increase of $3,500 per year. News organizations reported that a “gang of eight” was convened by U.S. senators as far back as 2011 to find a way to avoid the approaching tax increase.
It was created by Senators Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss, later adding senators who either had a connection to a GOP congressional leader or to President Obama:
The goal of the 2012-13 Gang of Eight was to gain more support with their economic proposals than that of previous commissions. Their solutions were more ambitious — end corporate loopholes, raise the Social Security retirement age, and force wealthy seniors to pay more for Medicare among other recommendations. Their work led to a 10-year plan that would reduce the deficit by $3.7 trillion dollars. It gained a sizable endorsement from senators on both sides.
Immigration Gang Of Eight
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The long storied history of immigration reform in the United States continued in 2013 with the creation of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of that year.
It was written and negotiated by a different group of eight senators (although two were also members of the Gang of Eight from the fiscal cliff):
The goal of the bill was to make a comprehensive solution to immigration. The policies this Gang of Eight pushed covered most parts of the process, from migration to employment, with these solutions in particular:
After several committee hearings about the provisions of the bill, it passed with the support of all Democrats and most Republicans in June 2013.
Is There a Need for the Group?
Left Out in the Cold
There is an obvious amount of criticism coming from the other members of the intelligence committees in both chambers of Congress as many of their colleagues are being left out of key briefings regarding their nation’s safety. This has been addressed in the past in Senate and House authorization bills during the Obama administration that wanted to repeal the Gang of Eight procedure.
This would require the White House to inform the entirety of the intelligence committees instead of a small group. The White House disagreed with this and threatened to veto this bill if passed. This type of political friction continued with the turbulent intelligence issues during the Trump administration.
Politics Always Wins
The idea of putting together an elite group of members of Congress sounds great from a political standpoint but ultimately has either made things more complicated or has been ineffective. While the Bush administration, through the Department of Justice, justified their wiretapping program with meetings with the Gang of Eight, some members of the group criticized them, disputing that they never occurred.
There is also the fate of the fiscal cliff Gang of Eight. Their efforts had 50 senators eventually approve their economic deal with all its radical cuts. However, they did not get the approval of GOP Senate leadership, nor that of the House. Ultimately, what became their role in the fiscal crisis was that of a link between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner that helped resolve the problem.
What was a true failure in regards of the Gang of Eight was on immigration reform. After a rousing success in the Senate for the passing of the border security bill, no action was taken by the House of Representatives. Their reason was their primary commitment to stronger border security and interior enforcement. Sadly, the bill died in the 113th Congress, and as a response, President Obama announced a deferred action program that allowed undocumented immigrants to stay legally in the United States.
President Trump rescinded that program with his own executive order, but Congress has yet to formulate their own immigration reform bill.
What Else You Should Know?
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Gangs of Many Numbers
There have been other congressional groups that have had less or more than eight members. At some point in the last ten years there have been three versions of a Gang of Six, each a bipartisan group of senators focused on one topic. In 2009, one was formed during the highly contested health care reform of the period that would eventually create the Affordable Care Act. The second Gang of Six would eventually become the fiscal Gang of Eight. The most recent Gang of Six formed in 2018 to propose changes on border security and immigration laws, but they have not been successful.
There was a much larger group, the Gang of 14, formed by Senators on both sides as a defensive measure in 2005. During that time Senate Democrats were using the filibuster in a careful manner as to block the confirmation of conservative court candidates. In order to stop Senate Republicans from changing rules and eliminating filibusters for judicial confirmation votes (the “nuclear option” as it was called), seven Democrats and seven Republicans came together to find a compromise that would appease both parties.
Other Countries Have Gangs
These types of groups are not a uniquely American invention. In 1991, a group of eight officials within the government, the Communist Party and the KGB, conspired to overthrow leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Their coup d’état attempt failed, and they arrested all eight involved.
In China, there was a smaller, yet more notorious gang that made serious changes to their country. The Gang of Four were loyalists to Mao Zedong who tried gaining control of the nation after his death. They were denounced by Mao’s successor and arrested for treason.
Pundits, the public, and colleagues will have differing opinions on the meaning of the Gang of Eight in any of its iterations. Even when they are being given intelligence information (and this is still true during the Trump administration and talks of Russian interference), the group still fights for both respect from the executive branch and backing from other members of Congress.
The old rules of politics will trump these gang’s attempts at making concrete changes to the nation, but indirectly they also push others into making ones that have affected millions of Americans who truly needed it. The names might change, but their purposes have always been to fix the country one small team at a time.
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