Here comes another escalation of pressure on Obama to act unilaterally to ease the pace of deportations. The latest: The AFL-CIO has produced a detailed memo urging him to move forward with ambitious reform — and arguing that he would be on solid legal ground in doing so.
The AFL-CIO memo is a reminder that Obama will likely feel overwhelming pressure to do something to slow deportations if House Republicans fail to act legislatively by the August recess.
The Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing deportation policies to make them more humane. The AFL-CIO is now, in effect, calling on Obama to go big with whatever solution he recommends — which would certainly trigger a massive backlash from Republicans.
The AFL-CIO memo calls on the Department of Homeland Security to “grant affirmative relief with work authorization to individuals who are low priorities for removal or eligible for prosecutorial discretion under existing DHS policies.”
One example of these existing DHS policies can be found in the Morton Memo issued by DHS in 2011, which said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can exercise prosecutorial discretion in deeming some a lower priority for deportation, such as elderly individuals, crime victims, longtime U.S. residents, and people with disabilities or serious health conditions. Immigration advocates say that ICE agents have widely ignored the memo.
The AFL-CIO is calling on DHS to create a new mechanism through which people who are low priority for deportation — according to already existing DHS policy — can seek relief. As legal justification for this, the AFL-CIO memo argues that an agency has the discretion not to use law enforcement resources to target certain people, and instead prioritize those resources to target higher priority individuals (in this case, criminals and drug dealers).
The renewed push from the AFL-CIO comes as other groups, such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have issued their own memos laying out similar arguments. (None of these suggestions would amount to legalizing millions of people, which Obama plainly cannot do.)
The Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards have both called for similar reforms, arguing that they would be on solid legal ground. Obama and White House officials have previously cast doubt on their legal room to maneuver, hoping to keep up the pressure on Republicans to act legislatively. But as a Post editorial recently pointed out, efforts to play politically to Republicans with ongoing deportations have failed to win legislative action from them:
That strategy has failed. GOP lawmakers, beholden to the most xenophobic elements of the party’s base, have barely budged on immigration. Rather than crediting the administration for its strictness, they have accused Mr. Obama of selective enforcement for having exempted from deportation most young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents, the so-called “dreamers.”
In fact, all law enforcement involves setting priorities…why continue to expend scarce law enforcement resources on deporting undocumented immigrants with no criminal records or whose offenses involve loitering or minor traffic violations?
White House officials appear persuaded that there is still an outside chance for action from House Republicans after the primaries are over and before the August recess. But if August comes and nothing has happened, Obama’s supporters will ask how far he is prepared to go in easing deportations — not whether he is prepared to act to ease them.
* MEDICAID FIGHT HEATS UP IN LOUISIANA: Keep an eye on this one: This week, Louisiana state legislators are set to consider a bill that would put the Medicaid expansion up for a constitutional amendment referendum, in order to bring in federal money to cover some 242,000 Louisiana residents.
Vulnerable Dem Senator Mary Landrieu will aggressively go after opponent Bill Cassidy on the issue — one example of a Democrat actually campaigning on Obamacare, despite the constant claims that Dems are uniformly running away from the law.
* A BRAWL AMONG GEORGIA GOP SENATE CANDIDATES: Over the weekend, the GOP candidates for Senate had their sixth of seven debates, with each clambering over the next to get further to the right. Notably, GOP Rep. Paul Broun whacked John Boehner over immigration reform to burnish his conservative cred (Boehner has done little other than release principles that include legalization and express a general desire to see this problem solved).
Dems want to face a Tea Partyer like Broun, or Phil Gingrey or Jack Kingston. But whoever wins, it’s likely there will be a runoff, meaning Republicans won’t have their nominee until late July.
* GOP SENATE CANDIDATE GIVES UP ON REPEAL: The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the uphill battle West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant faces in trying to keep this Senate seat in Dem hands, against GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who is the heavy favorite. A startling concession from Capito:
Acknowledging that Mr. Obama is unlikely to agree to repeal his health law, Mrs. Capito said she would focus on making it “less painful and more manageable.”
For those keeping track, GOP Senate candidates Scott Brown, Terri Lynn Land, and Tom Cotton have refused to take a stand on the Medicaid expansions in their states, while Thom Tillis and Capito are hedging on repeal. But…disaster!
* THE WAR ON POVERTY, 50 YEARS LATER: Trip Gabriel has a remarkable piece of reporting on the intractability of poverty in the poorest county of West Virginia, as a window into deeply poor rural areas around the country, 50 years after the war on poverty. Here’s the part that’s relevant to the current political debates:
Many in McDowell County acknowledge that depending on government benefits has become a way of life, passed from generation to generation. Nearly 47 percent of personal income in the county is from Social Security, disability insurance, food stamps and other federal programs. But residents also identify a more insidious cause of the current social unraveling: the disappearance of the only good jobs they ever knew, in coal mining.
As one local official puts it: “Our politicians never really did look ahead in this county for when coal wouldn’t be king.”
* RUNNING OUT OF TIME ON CLIMATE CHANGE: The Times has a good editorial on just how alarming it is that the recent UN Panel on Climate Change report found that we have a window of 15 years before the cost of reining in carbon emissions will become overwhelming. Here’s the key:
Confronted with a hostile Congress, President Obama has commendably moved on his own to reduce emissions through regulations, first with cars and now with coal-fired power plants. And he has done so without a great deal of public support. However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This makes his job harder but no less urgent.
In addition to how successfully Obamacare is implemented, Obama’s legacy will turn on how aggressively he uses executive action to curb emissions — something that won’t be politically easy to do.
* IN 2014, ECONOMY MAY MATTER MORE THAN OBAMACARE: Albert Hunt says the unsayable: The politics of Obamacare are (get this!) changing, and the economy could end up mattering far more for Dem prospects than the health law. That could prove bad for Dems. Indeed, some Dem pollsters think disapproval of Obamacare partly reflects disapproval of the president himself, which is the result of the slow recovery. Either way, it’s good that more commentators are noticing that Obamacare politics are no longer trapped in October of 2013.
* A PROGRESSIVE MAYOR, UNBOWED: E.J. Dionne talks to New York mayor Bill De Blasio, who reflects on the immediate backlash that has greeted his efforts to combat inequality. As Dionne points out, despite the bad media coverage, De Blasio has actually had some successes:
He has reined in the stop-and-frisk policing program and the city’s crime rate has continued to drop. He pushed through a bill expanding paid sick leave to 500,000 workers. His most important victory was to secure five years of funding from the state legislature to provide pre-kindergarten to every 4-year-old in the city. He didn’t get the small tax increase on the wealthy he sought…Still, citywide pre-K is a major initiative, and a successful plan could become a model for the country.
De Blasio’s mayoralty will continue to be watched as an experiment in local progressive rule at a time of stalemate in Washington — and for signs of whether the national Democratic Party can move in a more economically progressive direction.
* AND THE KOCH BROTHERS’ WAR ON GREEN ENERGY: Relatedly, the Los Angeles Times has an interesting look at another front in the Koch brothers’ ongoing battles: They are backing efforts to roll back green energy policies in multiple states. Note this, concerning an Americans for Prosperity effort to roll back a mandate that 20 percent of energy in Kansas come from renewal sources:
The group’s campaign in that state compared the green energy mandate to Obamacare, featuring ominous images of Kathleen Sebelius, the outgoing secretary of Health and Human Services, who was Kansas’ governor when the state adopted the requirement.
Obamacare as catch-all symbol for all Big Government villainy.