The big buzzy political story this morning, from the L.A. Times and from Greg Sargent, is that there’s a big rethink going on in the White House about the timing of executive action on immigration. The unnamed actors favoring a delay until after the elections are apparently carrying the water for red-state Democratic senators who believe a big program of temporary legalization would produce 110% turnout amongst the conservative GOP “base,” while distracting attention from the economic themes that have been working pretty well for the Donkey Party.
Now I’m sure the folks making these arguments are privy to better and more specific polling than the rest of us. While it’s obvious there’s been a recent lurch towards hostility to any form of “amnesty,” especially among Republican voters, I don’t know if it’s an especially intense trend in places like Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, or if it extends beyond core GOP voters. But sure, if you’ve been planning a tough and close Senate race for many months now and find yourself in competitive but still perilous condition despite the president’s unpopularity in your state, you probably don’t want said president blotting out the sky just as early voting begins with an action that will at best be controversial. I keep thinking of the Republican Senate runoff in Georgia, where best we can tell the whole race turned around the minute David Perdue linked Jack Kingston (via the U.S. Chamber) to “amnesty.”
The trouble with the “delay” strategy is that it may only prolong the agony. Let’s say the White House lets it be known nothing’s going to happen until the beginning of 2015. Republicans will still contrive some sort of congressional proposal to prevent, restrict or cancel past or future presidential actions on immigration, and demand Democratic senators take a position. It’s the perfect background accompaniment to the argument that America needs a Republican Senate to rein in the scofflaw in the White House. Moreover, if the White House does indeed rationalize a delay as a matter of improving enforcement before easing deportations–an echo of the standard “enforcement first” Republican message—it will undermine its own argument that DACA and an expansion of DACA are the key to better enforcement via a clarification of priorities.
Assuming the president’s not going to do something wildly extravagant, there’s a case to be made for getting this over with asap and letting Americans see the sky isn’t falling. Democratic candidates will still be free to distance themselves from Obama, but it should become plain pretty quickly that a Republican Senate isn’t going to be able to do anything about DACA, either. Perhaps the most important political argument against a delay is that the advantage among Latino voters which is the long-range strategic prize in this debate could be jeopardized by too calculated an approach after so many expectations have been raised. Sure, an immigration “bombshell” before an already difficult midterm is very risky, but so, too, is another three or four months of vacillation.