Votes were still coming in on Tuesday evening when ABC’s Jon Karl reported that, per White House sources, “the president will move forward with an executive order on immigration reform no matter how big a shellacking Democrats get.” The shellacking was bigger than even the most optimistic Republicans had predicted. To act on immigration without engaging the country’s new congressional majority would be a defiance of the legislative branch, and of the American electorate.
This summer the White House indicated its intention to effectively amnesty by executive action anywhere from 3 to 6 million immigrants illegally in the country by expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — implemented by executive fiat, via memorandum, in 2012 — to include illegal-immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and possibly illegal-immigrant parents of DACA recipients. The action could include other illegal-immigrant groups, too, and like DACA it would, by providing to illegal immigrants government-issued documentation, secure for them the benefits of lawful status despite the absence of a green card or path to citizenship.
That order, first hinted at in July, was originally slated for the end of August. Then it was pushed back until after Labor Day. Then the White House, fearing electoral repercussions come November, declared that it would not act until after the midterms. So it is no stretch to say that political cynicism has been the defining feature of this still-unveiled proposal — and the White House’s avowal that it will pursue unilateral action affirms that that is still the case. As National Journal’s Ron Fournier put it, in the wake of Tuesday’s results, “acting on immigration by fiat [now] would be the political equivalent of . . . flipping the country the bird.”
Because, while voters no doubt had many questions on their minds, it is difficult to deny that immigration overreach helped to doom Democrats. If Republicans pick up Alaska (votes are still being counted) and Louisiana (set for a January runoff), five Democratic senators who supported the Gang of Eight bill will have lost in this cycle, and a sixth, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, barely survived. The Democratic candidates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Iowa, as well as “independent” candidate Greg Orman in Kansas, all supported the Gang of Eight bill, and all lost. The president may not have been on the ballot, but, as he said in October, his policies and congressional backers were — and voters rejected both decisively.
What can Republicans do to forestall executive overreach on immigration during the coming lame-duck session? The current continuing resolution, the appropriations law that funds the government, expires on December 11. Republicans should insert into a short-term continuing resolution language that would prohibit funding to a prospective executive order on immigration. To avoid shutting down the government, Democrats would have to pass the bill, putting themselves on record as opposing the president’s immigration plan; or they could reject the bill, potentially shutting down the government. Since Republicans could cite November’s results as evidence that voters have rejected the president’s immigration plan and that they prefer Congress, not the executive alone, to act on immigration, a government shutdown might not hurt Republicans the way it did in October 2013.
Speaking to the nation on Wednesday, President Obama announced his intention to move forward with an executive action on immigration if Congress will not pass immigration legislation he likes — so it is that, instead of “rising above politics,” as he once promised, the president has stooped to extortion.
It has long been clear that the president is not much interested in submitting to the dictates of the democratic process when he does not like the results. Republicans during the lame-duck session should pursue any measure available to them to hold the line against the president’s inclinations toward lawlessness — and to ensure that the millions of voters who rebuffed his policies on Tuesday are not ignored.
We can well understand, after Tuesday’s results, that the president desires a new electorate. But that does not give him license to rewrite the nation’s immigration law to suit his desire.