Obama to GOP: On immigration, you have three months

President Obama met with law enforcement officials today to discuss immigration reform, and tellingly, he declared that House Republicans have a short timeline for action. “The closer we get to the midterm elections, the harder it is to get things done around here,” Obama said, according to the White House transcript. “We’ve got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives.”

On one level, Obama was simply acknowledging the reality of the Congressional calendar. But on another level, it seems clear he was tacitly referencing the fact that if Republicans don’t act by the August recess, he’ll almost certainly have to do something to ease deportations himself. After all, if Obama thinks reform is dead if it doesn’t happen by August, that can only mean all the guns from the left will turn on him to act alone, right?

Yet despite that, all indications are that the White House really does seem to think there is an outside chance House Republicans could still act on immigration reform, even though many reporters have knowingly written this off as impossible. Why?

Part of it, I think, lies in the belief that House Republican leaders really do see the August recess as a deadline of sorts for them. It’s become widely acknowledged consensus that Obama will have to do something on his own if Republicans don’t, and if that happens, it will be even harder politically for Republicans to act legislatively later. GOP Rep. Mario Diaz Balart has said that. So has Dem Rep. Luis Gutierrez. This could mean that, if Republicans don’t act by August, they could lose their chance to place their stamp on immigration reform — and begin to get right with Latinos — before the next presidential election.

I’d be very surprised if Obama and Boehner have not had extensive conversations about all of this stuff and about the respective dances both sides must go through here. In his remarks today, Obama was also careful to say GOP leaders must be granted the “political space to go ahead and get it through their caucus.”

At this point, it’s hard to read John Boehner’s repeated public statements about immigration and conclude that he has ruled out action this year. He very well may not end up acting this year, but seems clear that a decision one way or the other hasn’t been made. Even those who are most pessimistic about reform succeeding – such as advocates now pressuring Obama to act without Republicans — don’t doubt that Boehner is flirting with plans to act (which, to be clear, he may or may not carry out).

Those following the Tea Leaves closely from the left think GOP leaders have given Diaz-Balart, who has legislative language ready to go on some kind of legalization proposal for the 11 million, the tacit go-ahead to round up as many House Republicans as he can. “The accepted wisdom among advocates following this closely is that Boehner wants to get his done, and that Diaz-Balart and others are trying to corral Republicans so Boehner can schedule votes before the August recess,” Frank Sharry, the head of America’s voice, says

No one knows whether enough House Republicans will support Diaz-Balart’s proposal — or any form of legal status under any circumstances – to allow Boehner to move forward. More to the point, no one knows whether Boehner will have the stones to move forward even if a lot of House Republicans are tacitly okay with it getting a vote, since that would unleash the fearsome wrath of the right.

Whether or not Obama explicitly meant the two-to-three-months remark as a suggestion that he will act alone if Republicans don’t, he was delivering them a wake-call: It’s probably now or never.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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