At precisely the moment when President Obama faces a tough decision over how far to go in taking unilateral action to ease deportations, a crisis has erupted to make the politics of this a lot harder. In coming weeks, it’s likely to get worse.

The White House has announced that Joe Biden will make a stop in Guatemala, to address the surge in unaccompanied minors who are crossing the border into the U.S through Mexico. In total, 90,000 minors may be apprehended this year and another 142,000 next year.

Republicans have used the crisis to argue that Obama’s immigration policies — in particular, his de-prioritization of the deportations of DREAMers — have encouraged more illegal immigration. Biden’s trip is designed to discourage further immigration by spreading the message in Central American countries that illegal immigrants will not be able to stay indefinitely:

“The vice president will be making this trip to Guatemala to discuss both the violence and economic opportunity side and the misperceptions of U.S. immigration policy,” said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “While he’s there in Guatemala he will emphasize that illegal immigration is not safe. That putting your child in the hands of a criminal smuggling organization is not safe. And he will make clear that recently arriving children are not eligible for [the deferred deportation program] or earned citizenship provisions in current immigration reform legislation.”
“The bottom line is that it’s not worth subjecting children to a perilous journey when, at the end of the day, there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” the official added.

The surge in unaccompanied migrants has many causes, but one is indeed the perception that under Obama, children who come illegally will be allowed to stay in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson has said these children are “not eligible” for legal status, and it’s true that under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program they aren’t. But human smuggling networks may be “falsely propagating the rumors to recruit clients, whose families pay large sums for the trip north.”

The problem: The administration is in a political jam that prevents it from forcefully dispelling perceptions that they can stay. The administration is constrained from stating flatly that all of these unaccompanied migrants will be deported immediately. That’s partly because under current law unaccompanied minors must be channeled into legal proceedings that either end in deportation or reunification with family members. But it’s also because, at a time when Obama is taking heavy fire for not doing more to ease deportations, taking a harder line on deportations is politically dicey.

At the same time, the failure to adopt a hard enough line only makes it easier for Republicans to attack Obama’s lawlessness for creating the crisis. As I’ve tried to show, the Republican position on deportations is ridiculous on many levels. But nonetheless, the criticisms — accompanied by news coverage of what is becoming a humanitarian disaster — could make it politically more costly for Obama to act unilaterally to ease deportations of those already here. And we may soon be treated to more information about just how many minors who have entered as part of this latest surge here have not been deported.

How the White House threads this needle in the weeks ahead will be worth watching.

The flurry of phone calls and jockeying has also led a growing number of House Republicans to worry that the GOP risks becoming consumed by ideological conflict, signaling to the electorate that the party is divided as the midterm elections approach.
“We’ve got to get these races behind us and start to look like a governing party,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, an ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner. “There are people in our conference looking to inflict political pain, but most of us want to get back to work.”

Hmm. Here’s one way to “start to look like a governing party”: Participate in governing. Maybe start with votes on immigration reform, which GOP leaders themselves say has to happen because the status quo is untenable?

* MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ TO BE CONTINGENT ON POLITICAL SOLUTION: Obama has ruled out sending in ground troops in response to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s advances, and the New York Times reports he is mulling airstrikes, but even those would be conditioned on whether Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki offers a political power-sharing plan to address sectarian rifts:

The president’s two-track response, the official said, stems from his belief that military strikes on radical Sunni militants, absent parallel measures to reform Iraq’s government, will simply hand the country over to competing Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni fighters, and a future of unending sectarian strife…But it is unclear how far the Iraqis would need to go in establishing a multi-sectarian government that would satisfy Mr. Obama.

Meanwhile, the problem with airstrikes is that “identifying the proper targets is difficult and time-consuming…since the militants have become more interspersed with other militias and ordinary people.” Still, lawmakers who got Iraq all wrong last time will continue to demand instantaneous action.

Interestingly, Kahl cites a 2011 speech delivered by one John McCain in which he called retaining such protections for U.S. troops a “matter of vital importance,” though he also faulted Obama for not pushing hard enough for a deal including them.

* DEMS OFFER AIR SUPPORT FOR KAY HAGAN: The independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List is up with a new spot hammering North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis over deep education cuts imposed by the state legislature on his watch, noting that class size is growing and teachers are paying for supplies while Tillis “protected tax breaks for yachts and jets.”

The spot, which is backed by a high-six-figure buy, is a reminder of just how central education will be to the Dems’ strategy of using the state’s hard turn to the right turn to draw what is shaping up as perhaps the sharp economic and ideological contrast of any Senate race in the country.

* WHAT DEMS CAN LEARN FROM CANTOR’S LOSS: Howard Dean, the founder of Democracy for America, urges Dems to interpret Eric Cantor’s loss thusly: While bases can decide elections, there is a stark difference between the extremism of the GOP base’s ideas and the popularity of the progressive base’s policies:

The Republican base is driving the party toward a political agenda that makes its candidates increasingly unelectable for national and statewide offices…the Democratic base is much larger than the tea party, and polling shows that most Americans stand with us on issue after issue, from expanding Social Security to raising the minimum wage to getting big money out of politics. If Democrats mobilize our base, stand up for what’s right and force a fight on vote-inspiring issues connected to combating income inequality, we can rack up wins that will stun many in Washington’s pundit class — and elect Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in November.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether issues will matter enough to offset the Dems’ midterm-dropoff problem.


Obama’s job approval rating from Gallup Daily tracking has averaged 44% thus far in June. That is the same as his approval rating at the time of the 2010 elections, when Democrats lost more than 60 seats in the House. Only two presidents have had lower job approval ratings in recent midterm elections — George W. Bush in 2006 and Ronald Reagan in 1982. In those years, the president’s party lost more than 20 seats, suggesting seat loss is not always proportional to presidential job approval, but underscoring the peril the president’s party faces when his approval rating is below 50%.

Of course, Democrats don’t have to win; they merely have to limit their losses to five Senate seats, after which it will be on to 2016, with the terrible Senate map for Republicans and a presidential year electorate.

Mr. Obama’s big achievements don’t register with much of the Washington establishment: he was supposed to save the budget, not the planet, and somehow he was supposed to bring Republicans along. But who cares what centrists think? Health reform is a very big deal; if you care about the future, action on climate is a lot more important than raising the retirement age. And if these achievements were made without Republican support, so what? There are, I suppose, some people who are disappointed that Mr. Obama didn’t manage to make our politics less bitter and polarized. But that was never likely. The real question was whether he…could make real progress on important issues. And the answer, I’m happy to say, is yes, he could.

It’s true Obama vowed to transcend partisanship, but as many on the left pointed out early, that was always misguided and naive. Meanwhile, the Green Lanternites will continue to moan about Obama’s failure to lead the GOP out of its own intransigence, but if they refuse to recognize the true dimensions of the basic imbalance between the two parties, well, who cares?