We should be grateful that the Obama administration is not more decisive and efficient. Otherwise President Obama might be leaping to make a unilateral and unconstitutional revision of immigration laws. Instead, it seems the White House will wait until after the midterm elections to spring its power grab on Americans. Yes, even after getting pummeled and having his presidency effectively repudiated by the voters because of low approval ratings, the president would go ahead and act in defiance of (even the existing) Congress. Students beginning a class on civics should be assured that this is NOT how the system is supposed to operate. At least, until this president it hasn’t operated this way.
The agonizing over immigration raises a number of interesting questions:
1. If the president is going to act after the elections, how popular can this really be? It seems that while the GOP is trying to expand its base, the Democrats are retreating to the uber-liberal, weak-on-defense stance of the 1970s.
2. What is Hillary Clinton going to do? If she objects, Hispanics, a key Democratic constituency, will hold it against her. If she agrees, independents and conservative Democrats may decide that she is no better than Obama and line up with the Republican presidential nominee, provided he is a credible figure.
3. Isn’t this an incentive to vote for a GOP Congress with a super-majority? If voters want to rein in a lawless president, who may try other unilateral stunts if he gets away with this one, the only remedy (no, impeachment isn’t one of them) is to have a Congress with a majority sufficient to undo his illegitimate power grabs. Moreover, it sets up Democrats for potentially embarrassing votes of censure against the president for acting without Congress.
4. Isn’t this a gift to the House Republicans? They did pass a border security measure before the summer recess. The Senate did not act. Rather than hold up the Republicans as the bad guys, the president would be handing the GOP a position on which nearly all Republicans can agree: The president has to enforce existing law, not make up new ones as he goes along.
5. Isn’t refusing to act pre-elections playing into the enthusiasm gap? Democrats will be depressed that the president has kicked the can down the road. Republicans will be determined to send a message of disapproval. With polls already showing Republicans more engaged, especially in red states with competitive Senate races, this would seem to make matters worse.
6. Does Obama permanently lose his core constituency — the media — over this? A surprising number of mainstream media outlets and pundits have condemned a unilateral power grab, perhaps aware that it opens the floodgates to unilateral action by future GOP presidents on regulations, taxes and a lot more. If the president goes ahead, the media, already having a field day, may excoriate the president for lawlessness, making for an even tougher final two years for him and a more unfavorable environment for Democrats in 2016.
7. Doesn’t this set up 2016 as a referendum on presidential lawlessness? Every candidate for the House and Senate will have to declare himself or herself either supportive of the “If Congress won’t act, I get to do what I want” philosophy or opposed to it. It is the sort of inclusive issue that Republicans can use effectively (Do you want the politicians who govern by whim or cooperative, constitutional government?).
Even if the president acts after the midterms, his power grab will still complicate things for Clinton and other Democrats in 2016. Democrats have lost the House and may lose the Senate under Obama. Obama certainly is the gift that keeps on giving — to Republicans.
UPDATE: New polling shows unilateral action on immigration to be quite unpopular. “According to the latest IBD/TIPP poll, 73% of the public say Obama should work with Congress on reforms. Just 22% say he should ‘sidestep Congress and act on his own using executive orders’ — something the president has repeatedly pledged to do. Among independents, 78% say Obama should work with Congress, with only 19% saying he should go it alone. Even among Democrats, only 39% say Obama should act unilaterally, while 54% say he should work with Congress.” Ouch.