February 12, 2013

The most significant development of the night: President Obama’s decision not to use the immigration issue as a partisan wedge. The general principles he outlined –- tightened border security, earned citizenship, fixing the legal immigration system –- are broadly consistent with the approach of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and the rest of the Gang of Eight in the Senate. Obama went out of his way to reassure Republicans that undocumented workers would need wait their turn in the immigration line behind legal immigrants, even as that line is shortened.

Much of the rest of Obama’s agenda was predictable, uncreative or unlikely to become law. But on immigration, Obama is exactly right: We know what needs to be done. Tonight, he gave Congress the flexibility — and Republicans the cover — to achieve it. By rejecting a wedge issue, he may have found a legacy.

Michael Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Post.