L.A. Times: Obama Considering Delay of Unilateral Immigration Reform

by Charles C. W. Cooke

The L.A. Times reports that Obama may be feeling the heat from fellow Democrats:

President Obama is suggesting that he will defer his self-imposed deadline for announcing an expected change in immigration policy, as the White House wrestles with the political and legal dilemmas involved in making significant alterations without congressional approval.

I’m not going to get into the legal questions here. As a rule, “Congress won’t do it so I will” should be met with laughter, and then a firm ”no you will not.” There is, after all, always an excuse. Politically, however, this is getting interesting. If he heeds the warnings, the L.A. Times suggests,

the president would first announce measures aimed at tightening enforcement of current law, then put off until the end of the year a decision on a more sweeping program that could temporarily shield millions of immigrants from deportation.

The two-step plan would bow to the concerns of Democratic lawmakers running in Republican-leaning states who have expressed opposition to Obama’s plans to act unilaterally on the hot-button issue. Some Democratic senators have said he should wait for Congress to pass legislation.

And some Democratic strategists fret that the move would spark opposition among Republicans and energize the GOP base just weeks before the midterm election. The GOP is expected to maintain its House majority and needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent suggests that, if true, this would be a matter of basic electoral mathematics:

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 onwomen’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 arealready 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.

For my part, I wonder whether a delay might, in part, be the product of the Republican party’s insistence that it will not be shutting down the government. There is little for Obama to gain by taking unilateral action so close to a tough election. Unless, that is, that action provokes his political opponents do something silly and unpopular. The impeachment talk of a month or so ago was so much wishcasting — a transparent fundraising tool coupled with some plausible deniability (if Obama does something obviously illegal with his immigration orders, he can then say “see, I told you so!”) The shutdown talk, however, wasn’t entirely beyond the realms of possibility. After all, the Republican party has exhibited its unique talent for self-immolation as recently as last year. While the Democratic party believed that it might be able to provoke the GOP into hurting itself, a pre-election move made sense. Now, it probably does not. As Byron York records today:

I asked one plugged-in, senior GOP adviser whether there was any chance — any chance at all — that would happen. His one-word response: “No.”

An equally senior GOP aide added: “We are not going to shoot ourselves in the foot and jeopardize our chances of winning the Senate and gaining seats in the House.”

In his new book, The Way Forward, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan calls last year’s shutdown a “suicide mission” and says the GOP’s shutdown strategy was “flawed from beginning to end.”

“Wow,” Ryan remembers thinking as the shutdown became a reality. “This can’t be the full measure of our party and our movement. If it is, we’re dead, and the country is lost.”

That doesn’t sound like a man contemplating another shutdown.

. . .

Rubio’s office says there’s nothing to it. “We’re not going to shut down the government,” spokesman Alex Conant told me. “Ultimately, Republicans will need to win control of the Senate to reverse an executive action. We would be interested in having a vote on it in the context of the budget debate, but we are not going to shut down the government.”

Just to be clear, I asked Conant whether that meant Rubio would like to attach some sort of immigration rider to a funding bill, but if it lost, Rubio would accept the loss and the government would be funded. “Right,” responded Conant. “We’re not going to shut down the government.”

Just for good measure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last year ruled out another shutdown, reaffirmed that this week.

No shutdown, no need to risk affecting the midterms. 

Whatever happens, that the story seems plausible tells us something important: namely, that whatever it does for his legacy, unilateral — possibly illegal – action is not necessarily a political win for the president’s party. In the short term, at least.