The Immigration Battle Begins

Yesterday, I urged the president to hold off on amnesty by executive order. In his first post-election press conference, John Boehner warned Obama against “playing with matches” and “poisoning the well” with the incoming Congress by pursuing unilateral action on immigration reform, stressing that there would no chance of reform legislation passing both Republican-majority houses if the president went ahead. Russell Berman gauges the seriousness of that threat:

It’s a lot of sound and fury, but it probably won’t change the mind of a president who has been waiting for House Republicans to act on immigration reform for nearly two years. Boehner can’t do any less on the issue than he’s already done, and few in Washington gave much chance to an overhaul passing under Republican rule in 2015 anyway. …

Perhaps a more legitimate worry for the president is that beyond killing the slim-to-none prospects for congressional action on immigration, he would extinguish the hopes for bipartisan cooperation with the new Republican Congress on other issues. Well, those are limited to begin with, and as McConnell made clear with his remarks on Wednesday, Republicans need to get legislation signed by the president to advance their political interests, not his.

I don’t buy this. Portraying the president as a lawless illegal-lover is also in their political interests. Waldman argues:

I’ll bet that John Boehner would like nothing better than to have Barack Obama issue some executive orders on immigration. Then he’d have an easy answer every time someone asked when he was going to allow a vote on a comprehensive immigration package. What can I do? Obama poisoned the well. It’s not my responsibility anymore.

Peter Weber wants Obama to call Boehner’s bluff:

Boehner and his fellow GOP leaders aren’t just threatening to withhold something they can’t deliver anyway — they are threatening to withhold something they still need. Latinos are angry that Obama threw them under the bus by not acting before the election, but they still gave Democrats 62 percent of their votes (in a terrible year for Democrats). As Obama told Boehner in their discussions, “There will never be another Republican president again if you don’t get a handle on immigration reform.”

Republicans, traditionally in favor of a robust executive branch, may be hoping that Obama falls into a trap, enacting unpopular immigration measures and bolstering their assertion that he’s an imperial president. Maybe the second part will stick, but voters are with Obama on this issue. Even among the Democrat-slaying electorate that showed up on Tuesday, 57 percent favored giving illegal immigrants a path toward legal status.

Randal O’Toole advises the GOP to give up this fight:

Considering that Latinos are one of the nation’s fastest-growing demographics, and that they regard a war on illegal immigration to be a war on their families, Republicans should reverse course. The economic truth is that immigrants have always added more to our economy than they take away, and by achieving the American dream for themselves, they create demand for more work for people who already live here.

Worries that immigrants will abuse our welfare system are just symptoms that the welfare system should be reformed, for if it gives immigrants bad incentives, it must also give American citizens bad incentives. Reversing course on immigration is not just the economically correct thing to do, it is also politically strategic because it will allow Republicans to regain the support of Latinos, many of whom hold conservative beliefs and should feel right at home in a Republican Party that doesn’t treat them as enemies of the state.

But Jonathan Tobin suspects the executive order will backfire, as I do:

[F]or the president to now defy both public opinion and the will of Congress by acting on his own will do more than embitter his Republican antagonists. Though it will mollify one part of his coalition, rather than putting the issue to bed this end run around the law will create even more anger in the political grass roots around the country that will ensure that this issue will still be red hot in 2016. As they should have learned this year, it takes more than an energized base of minorities to win elections. Amnesty for the current crop of illegals will bring us more border surges and more damage to the rule of law. Obama may be content with that being part of his legacy, but it will be his fellow Democrats who will still be stuck trying to explain a move that can’t be defended when they go back to the voters in the future.

Greg Sargent gears up for what he expects to be a long and nasty rumble:

If this reaches such incendiary levels, how far will GOP leaders feel compelled to go in fighting it? McConnell is already pledging that “there is no possibility of a government shutdown.” But if there is any area where conservatives will continue to demand maximum confrontation, you’d think it’s here. If so, they will demand a Total War posture against Obama’s efforts to defer the deportations of millions. Democrats should be ready for this. It could very well be a huge battle. And by the way, the politics of it won’t be easy. While majorities favor legislative legalization, it’s not clear how the public will react to executive action on immigration.  I would not be surprised if the broader public disapproves of it.

Me neither.