Now that Republicans have made it clear that they will not participate on any level in basic problem solving when it comes to our immigration crisis, it is now on Obama to determine just how far he can go unilaterally, particularly when it comes to easing the pace of deportations. This is going to be one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency in substantive, moral, and legal terms, and politically, it could set off a bomb this fall, in the middle of the midterm elections.
I’m told there are currently internal discussions underway among Democrats over whether ambitious action by Obama could be politically harmful in tough races. According to two sources familiar with internal discussions, some top Dems have wondered aloud whether Obama going big would further inflame the GOP base, with little payoff for Dems in red states where Latinos might not be a key factor. I don’t want to overstate this: These are merely discussions, not necessarily worries.
Indeed, some Dems are making the opposite case, and that argument is described well in a new Politico piece out this morning. The story notes that Obama has privately told immigration advocates demanding ambitious action that they might not get what they want, telling them: “We need to right-size expectations.” And yet, according to Politico, some advocates still hope for aggressive action and believe Dems see it as in their own political interests:
Adding to the elevated hopes about what Obama will do is the feeling among Democratic strategists that immigration reform is a clear political winner: The people who will be opposed to reform or to the president taking action on his own are already likely prime Republican base voters. But voters whom Obama might be able to activate, both among immigrant communities and progressives overall who see this issue as a touchstone, are exactly the ones that Democrats are hoping will be there to counter a midterm year in which the map and historical trends favor GOP turnout.
In many competitive House districts and several of the Senate races that Democrats need to hold onto to have a chance of retaining the majority — Colorado and Iowa, and to a lesser extent, North Carolina and Arkansas — immigrant communities make up a significant bloc of votes. Done in a way that energizes Latinos and Asians, Obama’s taking the lead on immigration could prove a margin-making move for the midterms.
One place where this is plainly true is Colorado. As I noted here yesterday, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner is likely to find himself increasingly on the defensive on immigration, and this is one top-tier race where an aggressive pro-reform stance from Dems could actually help deliver victory.
Beyond this, though, my sense of internal discussions currently underway is that no one is really sure how the politics of this will play out. Indeed, to hear one source familiar with those discussions tell it, Dems mostly see this as guesswork, since we’re in largely uncharted political territory here: Yes, Americans support immigration reform and a sensible path to legalization, but no one knows how the public will greet unilateral action to bring about temporary relief from deportation, at least for some.
Indeed, this is probably a a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation: While aggressive action will provide fodder for Republicans to drive their base into a frenzy with #ObummerTyranny talk, it could also bait Republicans into overreach that alienates swing voters and motivates the Dem base in a year when the midterm dropoff problem is putting control of the Senate in peril.
And that is one reason why, in the end, Obama must make this decision based on what he truly believes the legal constraints on unilateral action are, rather than letting it be dictated by a sense of the political constraints here. Some advocates believe the White House will allow an overly cautious sense of the political constraints to hamstring him beyond what the lawyers actually think is within his authority. Yet others believe that ultimately the decision will be driven by a genuine evaluation of what is legally possible. We’ll find out soon enough, but let’s hope it’s the latter.
* REPUBLICANS SAY NO TO OBAMA ON BORDER CRISIS: The Post reports that multiple Republicans are expressing “skepticism” about the White House request for $3.7 billion in funding to expedite removals of minors crossing the border and to provide them more care. Some are demanding a more detailed plan to stanch the crisis, and others claim Obama must secure the entire border before acting on the short term crisis (which, as always, means they want the DREAMers deported).
Now, the question of whether the legal process needs to be changed in some formal way is a legitimate one. But it’s still unclear why, in the short term, Republicans who themselves say they want minors removed more rapidly would say No to funding that would help accomplish that goal.
* SOME REPUBLICANS WANT TRAFFICKING LAW REPEALED: Here’s something to keep an eye on. Some Republicans are calling for doing away with the 2008 trafficking law that mandates legal protections for arriving minors, which is a cause of the crisis. John McCain is calling for repeal, arguing: “The message has to be, ‘If you cross our border illegally, you will be returned immediately.'”
Senator Lindsey Graham is also calling for a similar step. The Obama administration, too, has expressed support for changing the law so children from Guatemala and Honduras can be removed as quickly as Mexicans. So it will be interesting to see if Congress is actually up to the task of legislating constructively.
* CAN OBAMA EXPEDITE REMOVALS BUT KEEP IT HUMANE? Julia Preston reports that the administration is implementing a major change in how immigration courts operate, to speed removals by moving undocumented minors and their parents to the front of the line:
Under the new procedures, those migrants could have their cases resolved and be deported within months…Judges now have only one priority for scheduling hearings: They take cases first of immigrants who are in detention. Under the new policy, unaccompanied minors and families in deportation proceedings — even those who have been released from detention — will also be priorities for judges.
The question is whether speeding up the process risks undermining legal protections for children who qualify for genuine relief for humanitarian reasons. Says one official: “We are not changing legal standards. We are going to do these cases fast but we will do them right.” We’ll see.
* WHY REPUBLICANS WON’T SUPPORT OBAMA BORDER FIX: Kevin Drum, commenting on opposition to Obama’s request for funds to expedite removals (which is coming from Republicans who want expedited removals), spells out the real motive here as clearly as you could want:
Well, of course it won’t happen. The crisis along the border is tailor made for Republicans. It makes their base hopping mad, it juices their campaign fundraising, and anytime the government is unable to address a problem it makes Obama look bad. Why on earth would Republicans want to do anything to change any of this? As long as Obama is president, chaos is good for Republicans. After all, most voters don’t really know who’s at fault when things go wrong, they just know there’s a crisis and Obama doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer that on immigration, Republicans are benefiting from the fact that media outlets simply refuse to describe their actual positions accurately.
* GOP OBAMACARE ALTERNATIVE FIZZLES: Shockingly, House Republicans have once again put off plans to introduce their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, mainly because there’s no consensus on what GOP health reform should look like. This is instructive:
“I think the feeling of the majority members of our conference is that you can’t be something with nothing, and we gotta have [an answer for] ‘What would you do if you were going to repeal Obamacare,’” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “People ask me that all the time.”
Once again, there is no policy space for a meaningful alternative to Obamacare. This, combined with the fact that Republicans such as Rep. Simpson increasingly recognize that they can’t simply call for repeal without an alternative, is why the law may well fade as a political issue.
* GOP CANDIDATES AGAIN IN TEA PARTY CROSS-HAIRS: The Hill makes a smart point about the looming battle over the Export-Import Bank:
Once an obscure issue that rarely attracted attention outside the Beltway, the fight over whether the bank should be reauthorized has become a major political brawl and a litmus test of sorts for many groups on the right. The fight has left GOP candidates with two bad options: alienate the Tea Party or risk losing support of business groups that will be spending millions of dollars this fall on campaign ads.
As I’ve noted before, Dems relish this fight as a way to split the GOP. Indeed, note that embattled Dem Senator Kay Hagan is already targeting foe Thom Tillis, arguing he’s opposing the bank to placate the national Tea Party even as it helps North Carolina companies. Expect more of this from Dem candidates.
* AND WILL PRO-GAY MARRIAGE REPUBLICAN RUN FOR PRESIDENT? Ohio’s Rob Portman is seriously considering a run, reports Robert Costa, and he says his support for gay marriage is a plus:
Portman is confident that his position on gay marriage has not crippled his ability to be a national candidate, arguing that it has enabled him to connect with the young voters his party is struggling to court as it grapples with changing demographics….“It has opened the door for a broader conversation on economic and fiscal issues,” he said. “You can’t become a national party unless you do a better job reaching those between 18 and 30.”
Good for Portman, but what about getting through a GOP primary? A recent poll found that white evangelical protestants overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage.