According to Post reporters Karen Tumulty and David Nakamura, the political calculus of what is happening at the border may be shifting, as a new wave of illegal immigrants floods across the border into the United States. Until recently, the politics of immigration had settled into a comfortable routine for the Democrats. Republicans would call for measures to strengthen the border and deport lawbreakers; the Democrats would call the Republicans uncaring or worse; nothing much would happen and most Latinos would vote Democratic. But now, the sheer number of (mostly young) illegal immigrants entering the United States and the president’s high-profile refusal to go to the border to better inform himself about the situation have combined to convince many voters that the problem is out of control.
The White House wants to try to defuse criticism of the president by promoting a flattering portrait of him as an untethered figure who escapes his handlers to freely engage with the populace, go where he wants to go, etc. In expressing that freedom, officials have jovially concocted the slogan “the bear is loose.” In other words, they present a doe-eyed view of an uninhibited President Obama who is calling the shots, having it his way and taking control. But, as The Post’s Juliet Eilperin points out in her recent piece for The Debrief, “to some, breaking free can also look like running away.”
Well, the president is trying to hide from what’s happening at the border. As The Post wrote this weekend, “The emergency has also renewed questions about the administration’s competence” and “Republicans and even some Democrats have accused Obama of being insufficiently engaged in a calamity that many say he should have seen coming.”
The president’s assertion that he won’t engage in photo-ops at the border is laughable and was greeted with widespread mockery. But it was also an unintended admission by the White House. If Obama visited the border, he would likely have to clarify exactly what he wants to happen to the illegal immigrants who have already entered the United States. The fact is, the administration doesn’t want much to happen. The White House is right in one regard: Solving this crisis is not theater, it is hard work.
No doubt the president thinks the conditions the illegal immigrants are having to endure are deplorable, but I don’t think the president and the Democrats want to send the them back. To do so would rile up their radical, open-border, pro-immigration-by-any-means political partners. So making a trip to the border would only raise expectations or leave the impression that the president and the Democrats don’t have any real intention of stopping illegal immigration.
But Republicans can’t do nothing. They should see the president and raise him one. The House could pass a bill that allocates more money for the border crisis than what Obama has asked for – and direct the funds toward border security, using language that makes it possible for deportations to happen quickly and penalize the nations that let smugglers operate. House Republicans should dare the Senate to not pass the bill, and then watch what vulnerable Democratic senators — from Mark Begich in Alaska to Kay Hagan in North Carolina — have to say.
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