The White House will delay unilateral action to shield more people from deportations until after the elections, a White House official confirms. The move has seemed increasingly likely in recent days, as more and more Democrats in tough races — particularly incumbent Dem Senators in red states — had come out against the move, and an internal debate had erupted among Democrats about whether Obama action now could cost them the Senate.
The White House official emails:
The reality the President has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the President believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections. Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the President will take action on immigration before the end of the year. For example, we have seen how Republicans have fought hard to exploit the humanitarian situation at the Rio Grande Valley…
The President has had many conversations and consultations throughout this process – including with his Cabinet, members of Congress, stakeholders, and advocates on this issue. The President is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year.
It’s unclear how directly Senate Democrats had pressured the White House to hold off, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that such pressure would increase if action seemed likely. The other day, I summed up the political thinking of Senate Dems this way:
The case goes like this: In the core red states that will decide Senate control, there are very few genuinely persuadable voters left. Base turnout will be decisive. Any action by Obama risks further inflaming the GOP base at a time when the fading of Obamacare as a major issue, and the lack of 2010′s seismic levels of rage, could mean core GOP voters aren’t quite as engaged as during the 2010 shellacking.
Meanwhile, Dem hopes for survival rest heavily on turning out the unmarried women who are increasingly key to the Dem coalition but sit out midterms. The way to move them is with a message relentlessly focused on women’s economic issues. Any move that allows Republicans to argue Dems are focused on giving jobs to illegal immigrants — however demagogic — risks muddling that message in the minds of voters who are already suffering from economic insecurity. While some argue acting would rev up core Dem groups, Latinos are not a major factor in these races and it might not have any such impact on these unmarried red state women.
The counter-argument: Any action by Obama could goad Republicans into a government shutdown or impeachment frenzy, and if there is anything that gets whatever swing voters remain off the fence, such outbreaks of GOP crazy are it. There’s a lot to that. But some Dems think the small group of persuadable voters left are probably mostly white voters who already deeply dislike the president and whose willingness to consider backing Dem incumbents is perched on a knife’s edge. They could prove more susceptible to GOP demagoguing on immigration than to worries about GOP process overreach.
If the economy is picking up in the fall, this argument goes, and Dem incumbents look like they may be hanging on, however tenuously, why scramble the deck?
Senate Democratic strategists, however, believe that the long-term policy and political goals are better served by delaying the decision until after November. Incumbents such as Pryor, Hagan and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) are locked in extremely close races and their victories would almost assure a Democratic majority in the Senate. However, if the Democrats lose the Senate after an executive order is issued, congressional Democrats could blame that decision for their losses and then imperil the immigration activist movement for years to come.
Immigration advocates, who have been asked to place their demands for deportation relief on hold for months and months — each time getting promised action was right around the corner — will be enraged, however, and there will now be a very bitter dispute between the White House and Senate Dems and a key component of their base.
UPDATE: A Democrat gets in touch to tell me that the 2014 Senate Dem candidates had been calling the White House to raise concerns about executive action. Also, the White House staff privately urged Senate Democratic leaders not to publicly suggest any end-of-summer deadline for action on deportations because there was always a chance of delay.
UPDATE II: In fairness, Obama himself suggested something close to an end-of-summer deadline in remarks back on June 30th:
“I have also directed [DHS] Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can. If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.”