Obama, the Republicans and Immigration

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

Obama addresses the nation on November 20, 2014

The politics behind President Obama’s executive order on immigration are fascinating, so I’ll quickly dispense with the policy stuff.  Yes, what he did is legal.  It probably should have been earlier, and it comes after he tried to work with Congress for six years to get a legislative solution.  No, this doesn’t go as far as comprehensive immigration reform – we’ll still need Congress to do that (and I suspect they will – but only in 2017) – but it definitely gives the US a more humane, compassionate and reasonable approach to immigration.

And the politics, well…as Spock would say, fascinating.

One theory is Obama is purposefully “trolling the Republican party.”  Not so much by the policy – Obama was going to do this anyway – but by not waiting until a bill was passed in December to continue government spending.   The logic goes like this:  the Republicans do not benefit politically when they try to shut down the government.   Most Republicans do not want a government shut down.   Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.

Moreover, the GOP remains divided.  They want to create the impression they are united and can be responsible, but the divisions are intense.   If those divisions can be brought into the open and be shown to bring chaos into Republican ranks, then the Democrats not only have a better shot to perhaps win back both houses in 2016, but Obama will benefit politically, giving him more leeway.  Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

One probable result of these changes in immigration is improved economic growth

This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action.  He is by nature a consensus builder and he has tried to use pressure and persuasion with Republican leaders who make ultimatums and refuse to compromise.   It’s not that they don’t want to compromise, but they don’t have their House caucus under control.  To make significant compromises would be to face a rebellion, and Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress with at least the illusion of party unity than one gets things done, but further divides and weakens the GOP.

So the White House may believe: a) there is nothing to gain by trying to work with this Congress – it’ll be no different than the last one; b) it’s now or never, we have two years to continue our agenda; and c) if we act now and inspire anger in the GOP base, then the  party will be divided, play with the fire of a government shut down, and ultimately be weakened going into 2016.

On top of that, Latinos will be thankful, will see and get angry at the rhetoric coming from the right, and turn out in record numbers to vote in Democrats in 2016.   The Republicans will claim the Democrats are “bribing Hispanics,” but that will be even more insulting.  The result: a weakened GOP and a revived Democratic party, already recovering from the 2014 election and realizing that overall the direction of the country still favors the Democrats.

To be sure, Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy.  This could be another aspect of his legacy that one day shines brightly, despite the controversy now.  It could also make it easier for the GOP to actually decide to pass a bi-partisan immigration policy that has more of what they want, realizing they get nothing if they just complain.  If the Republicans did that, they might find it easier to win over Latino voters in the future.

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

Too harsh a response and Republicans could help push record numbers of Latinos to vote Democratic in 2016

To Boehner and McConnell, they have to somehow satisfy their right wing (Boehner calling Obama ‘the most lawless President in history’ shows at least he’ll use their rhetoric) but chart a path that shows the country that the Republicans aren’t a bunch of angry whackos who can’t be trusted with the steering wheel.  This is a real test of whether or not the GOP can actually use their new majority effectively.

Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power.   Senator McConnell said the President is ignoring the will of the voters (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), but the Majority Leader should be reminded that Obama won elections with significant majorities twice.   That means he has been entrusted to follow his best judgment.

It’s also interesting how fickle politics can be.  Just over two weeks ago Republicans were overjoyed and Democrats demoralized by the 2014 Midterm elections.   Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet.   But that could change just as quickly.

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  1. #1 by List of X on November 21, 2014 - 00:08

    But if Obama thought that announcing a unilateral action on immigration was such a great plan to divide the Republicans and inspire Latinos to vote, shouldn’t he have done that before the mid-term election?

  2. #2 by lbwoodgate on November 21, 2014 - 08:34

    “This would, however, be a major shift of tone from a President who has been criticized for being too nice with Republicans, too unwilling to take unilateral action.”

    In retrospect, 6 years too late though it became clear within his first year as President. Better late than never I guess but its a helluva way to lead.

  3. #3 by pino on November 21, 2014 - 11:45

    Yes, what he did is legal.

    First – the policy is a good one; kinda. I think if you wanna work here, live here or become a citizen it should be much more simple.

    ok

    I’m pretty sure it’s not legal.

    He has discretion of resources – he can’t enforce every law at 100% efficiency so some folks have to be handled “later”. That part I get. But where he crosses the line is changing their legal status, giving them documentation and giving them rights.

    For that he needs legislation. A strong clue that this is true is that Obama himself said it.

    Already talk radio hosts, tea party activists and many in the House and Senate are calling for a government shut down.

    I would pass a budget bill that defunds the new order. It will surly pass in the House and the Senate doesn’t require 60 votes for budget bills. Then it’ll be Obama shutting down the government if he vetoes the bill.

    Speaker Boehner would prefer to lead a “do-nothing” Congress

    Don’t forget, the House passed immigration legislation this summer. Reid, like usual, failed to take it up effectively acting as a de facto veto for Obama.

    Clearly Obama is still very relevant

    I see the opposite. Obama is more and more irrelevant. He clearly has no mandate remaining, his approval is at near lows, he has no hope of orchestrating any form of compromise and his party just lost a vote on the KeyStone pipeline.

    The fact that he had to issue illegal orders is proof positive that he has lost hope of achieving one of his most important policy goals.

    • #4 by lbwoodgate on November 21, 2014 - 12:07

      ” Obama is more and more irrelevant. He clearly has no mandate remaining”

      Seems like someone is having a post-election wet dream here.

      “I would pass a budget bill that defunds the new order. … Then it’ll be Obama shutting down the government if he vetoes the bill.”

      Are you suggesting, like Jonathan Gruber, that Americans are too stupid to see who is setting up who?

      “The fact that he had to issue illegal orders …”

      This has been established in a court of law already?? Where did I miss that?

    • #5 by Scott Erb on November 21, 2014 - 15:25

      The Republican reaction to the climate deal, and now immigration show that they consider him VERY relevant. Moreover, he has veto power. If Congress passes nothing that isn’t veto’d, then the only relevant action the next two years will be in the form executive orders. As for budgets, well, they have to get passed a Senate filibuster and not get veto’d. Obama won’t be afraid to veto a budget, he knows that just like when Clinton did it to the GOP in 1995, Congressional Republicans will get blamed. That shutdown got Clinton re-elected! And Obama was going to veto the Keystone bill if it passed, so he won on that issue too! The only mandate he needs is the one he got in 2012. And if his orders go into force, the fact some think they’re illegal is irrelevant. If he has power, he has relevancy.

      • #6 by lbwoodgate on November 21, 2014 - 15:30

        ” And if his orders go into force, the fact some think they’re illegal is irrelevant. If he has power, he has relevancy.”

        President Obama has the legal authority to act.

        While Congress makes the laws, the president decides how to enforce those laws. Every law enforcement agency makes daily decisions on which areas to focus their resources. And in the immigration context, a decision to focus on those who have criminal offenses, such as finding and deporting serious criminals and national security threats instead of separating families, is completely consistent with executive authority.

      • #7 by pino on November 23, 2014 - 21:48

        <i then the only relevant action the next two years will be in the form executive orders.

        You make it sound like the Constitution says, “Legislation that the President desires must be passed if not, if the Congress fails to pass legislation, the President has the power to create laws himself.”

        As for budgets, well, they have to get passed a Senate filibuster

        They don’t need to pass cloture on budget bills. It’s likely that the reason that they will send a repeal of Obamacare to his desk. The legislation was passed with reconciliation to begin with remember.

        And Obama was going to veto the Keystone bill if it passed

        The long play was a loss for republicans but the short game was a loss for Harry Reid – he wanted the bill to pass for Mary.

  4. #8 by SShiell on November 23, 2014 - 09:33

    Where do I begin? I guess at the beginning.

    “Yes, what he did is legal.”

    Really? Well, our so-called Constitutional Professor of a President has stated on numerous occasions that he did not have the authority to do what he just did. Was he lying then or is he lying now. He has lied so often (“If you like your health care” etc.) it is hard to track. And on what legal basis, given you vast knowledge of the law, do you base this claim it is legal? Because I have heard very little legal justification from the pundits of the left – mostly legal justifications like “neener-neener-neen-er”.

    ” Already 2016 looks difficult for them, wounding themselves politically is something they want to avoid.” (Note: referring to the GOP)

    Except for the simple math that the GOP in 2016 is defending more seats than the Democrats, that statement is pretty simple. The vast majority of the GOP seats being defended are in red states. Only a very few are in blue or purple areas. I would suggest to you that the Democrats, with this unpopular move (and it is unpopular) may very well face the wrath of the voters once again in 2016.

    “Most Republicans do not want a government shut down.”

    True enough. So true in fact that the only people talking about a shutdown are the Democrats and that is simply the Dems orally fixating on a wet dream that will not happen.

    “Obama wouldn’t have done this if he thought it was bad policy.”

    That very simply, is a CRAP statement. Obama is doing this because he wants to do it and thinks he can do it without retribution, good policy or no.

    “Clearly Obama is still very relevant and willing to use his power.”

    He is obviously willing to use his power. Not so much on the relevant side. He is the President and holds the power of the office. Beyond that, except in the wet dreams of his supporters, not so much.

    ” . . . (the relatively small number of voters who voted in the midterm), . . . ”

    The only number that matters is the number who voted – regardless of how high or low that number is. A victory of 1-0 is a victory nonetheless. And someone who teaches Political Science, like yourself, ought to know that.

    “Between the defeat of the Keystone pipeline, the China-US climate deal and now bold leadership from the President on immigration, it’s the Republicans feeling angry and upset, and liberals light on their feet.”

    Bullsh*t! Reid would have never let Keystone come to a vote if he knew it would pass. It was done for one simple reason – to try and throw Landrieu a lifeline for her upcoming runoff election, which she will lose and lose badly. The China-US Climate deal is even getting criticisms from the left – and for good reason. It is a piece of paper that carries no weight and lets China continue to pollute with no reins or checks for the next 10 years when they then “intend” to think about it. And wait and watch, vulnerable Democrats in red and purple states will turn on this immigration edict in order to save their political lives. It will be the Democrats that will be wailing and gnashing their teeth at this lawless action by a President who thinks he has the power of a dictator.

    “But that could change just as quickly.”

    Hide and watch, Scott.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2014 - 09:50

      The GOP is defending 24 seats, the Democrats 10. 9 of the GOP seats are in states that went for Obama, none of the Democrat seats are in states that went for Romney. Things look good for the Democrats in 2016. Winning the Senate probably won the Republicans more headaches than power. The Democrats will filibuster or Obama will veto their efforts to exert power. Obama has executive power and is willing to use it. You can call him “lawless” but that’s over the top hyperbole. The Democrats said the same about Bush when he exercised executive power (though I didn’t). There is a reason Republicans are angry and Democrats are feeling good right now.

    • #10 by lbwoodgate on November 23, 2014 - 10:45

      ” Well, our so-called Constitutional Professor of a President has stated on numerous occasions that he did not have the authority to do what he just did. Was he lying then or is he lying now.”

      Wah, wah. Wah, wah

      “that is simply the Dems orally fixating on a wet dream that will not happen.”

      Maybe you can share your post-election wet dream with them. A guy thing trying to out “man” the other.

      “Obama is doing this because he wants to do it and thinks he can do it without retribution, good policy or no”

      Oh brother. Well I guess because you say so SS that ought to stand up in any court of inquiry. At least he is showing some restraint over his predecessor from displaying sophomoric behavior

      ” Reid would have never let Keystone come to a vote if he knew it would pass. It was done for one simple reason – to try and throw Landrieu a lifeline …”

      What?!? A politician acting in their own political interests. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. Can’t wait until the GOP takes over the Senate to display how they play out their own political interests.

  5. #11 by Scott Erb on November 23, 2014 - 09:52

    Add to that the House Congressional panel that cleared the Administration of any wrong doing over Benghazi and we’ll also see the faux scandals (IRS, ‘Fast and Furious’, etc.) being debunked as Obama heads to his exit as a successful and very consequential President.

    • #12 by SShiell on November 24, 2014 - 18:08

      ” . . as a successful and very consequential President.”

      At the risk of repeating myself, I would count you among those “Dems orally fixating on a wet dream.”

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