The last question for the president at today’s press conference was on immigration. It wasn’t a challenging question, like “What do you say to skeptics of the Senate immigration bill who fear that the initial legalization won’t be followed up by enforcement?” or “What’s the rationale for doubling legal immigration when millions of Americans are out of work?” Instead, NPR’s White House correspondent lobbed a softball, ending with “What other political leverage can you bring to bear to help move a bill in the House?” (I like Iowahawk’s interpretation: “Am I massaging your feet too vigorously, Your Majesty?“)
Obama’s response was the usual boilerplate (“our economy would be a trillion dollars stronger,” whatever that means) and the usual falsehoods (paying “back taxes” is a condition of amnesty, which it most certainly is not, though don’t expect any fact-checkers to note that). Two things were worth briefly noting.
First, in referring to the Senate bill’s requirement for an employment-eligibility verification system (not E-Verify, which the bill abolishes, but some other, yet-to-be-named system), the president said, “Let’s make sure that that system for holding employers accountable is in place.” I agree, of course, as do most opponents of the bill. The problem is that it needs to be “in place” before any illegal aliens get legal status, whereas the Senate bill amnesties everybody up front and puts off this requirement for years. And it might never happen, because the ACLU has promised to sue (perhaps in league with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, whom the ACLU has worked with in the past to obstruct immigration enforcement). If the lawsuit can be dragged out for ten years (and litigation over the 1986 amnesty ended only a few years ago), the Senate bill says the amnestied illegals will be upgraded to premium green-card status even without the verification system in place. The point is that Obama failed even to address the central fear of bill skeptics — that the enforcement promises in the Senate bill simply will not be kept if the legalization happens first.
The president’s complete unwillingness to engage criticism of the bill was encapsulated in his comment that, “So if your main priority is border security, I think you’d want to vote for this bill.”
The other point of note was that the president spent much of his response talking about how the Senate bill would pass the House right now if it were brought to a vote. He said that “the problem is internal Republican caucus politics,” with the usual pablum about “Washington politics” and “solving problems.” Now, it’s almost certainly true that the Senate bill would pass the House if Speaker Boehner brought it to the floor, since virtually all Democrats would back it (with a few exceptions) and only a handful of Republican collaborators (like Paul Ryan) would be needed to deliver Obama his No. 1 policy objective.
But the point of having a majority is that you get to decide what measures are considered. And if a majority of your own caucus doesn’t support a policy, then the leader of such a majority would be acting irresponsibly if he were to bring it to the floor. How many major policy questions did Nancy Pelosi bring to the floor that the majority of her own party opposed?