Mr. President, issue the executive order on immigration you promised. The arguments for and against such a move are all valid. Whatever you do will inspire blinding rage from the opposing corner. And if you’re going to get folks mad, it ought to be in the service of helping people who are trapped in a broken system long neglected by Washington.
“The anti-incumbent, anti-Obama spasm we saw yesterday was mostly about government dysfunction and gridlock,” Matt Bennett of the centrist think tank Third Way told me. “The president’s top priority now should be winning the battle to be the most constructive and reasonable of the three main players – him, Speaker [John] Boehner and [Sen.] Mitch McConnell.” Given all that, I asked Bennett, what should Obama do on immigration? “He should tell them, publicly and privately, that he would much prefer to find a legislative path forward,” Bennett said. “But he should be clear that he will do an EO if they stonewall or fail to move fairly quickly.”
A Democratic strategist who would speak only on background was more emphatic about the need for the president to stand down on executive action on immigration. “It would immediately squash the faint hope that we might get anything done in DC over the next 2 years,” she said. “If the President wants to show he will play nice with a Republican Congress, announcing major executive action on immigration is the worst possible way to signal that.”
Her analysis is absolutely correct. But congressional Republicans have not demonstrated an ability to “play nice” with the White House in a situation that didn’t involve a ceiling or a cliff. And even then it was rough play. It would be the very definition of a fool’s errand to try for a legislative fix to the immigration problem with the incoming, more conservative GOP majority of the 114th Congress.
“He’s now promised twice,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, of the president. “Who cares if it angers the GOP and they say it shows Obama won’t compromise. They’ve made their position clear.” Gabi Domenzain, former director of Hispanic press for Obama for America, told me that executive action ought to jolt Congress into doing something. “Republicans have done nothing but block and kill sensible measures that would fix our broken immigration system,” she said. “If they they don’t like the fact that they’ve forced the president to go at this alone, they can do their jobs and create a legislative fix.
“Taking executive action is about doing what’s right by people who are caught in a broken system,” Domenzain continued. “People need relief immediately. Every day families are suffering through a cruel, inhumane and broken system that we all acknowledge needs to be fixed. So first and foremost, we must relieve families’ suffering.”
Erika Andiola, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition who famously confronted Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on his anti-immigration stance in August, belongs to one of those families. “[W]e can’t wait one more day without the expansion of DACA and a stop to the deportation machine. [President Obama] can expand it to at least those who would be covered under the Senate Immigration bill,” she wrote me in an e-mail. “11 million people and our families depend on it. In fact, my mom has to return to check in with ICE next month, and I’m really nervous of what can happen to her.”
Whether he does it in the glow of television lights in the East Room or under the cover of darkness in the Oval Office or the private residence, the president must hold true to his word.
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