Obama’s Immigration Gamble

It had already been made semi-official via extensive informal statements from the White House, but any doubt that the long-awaited executive action on immigration would be postponed until after the elections was put to rest by the president on Meet the Press yesterday in response to a flat assertion by Chuck Todd on the subject:

[W]hat I’m saying is that I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country. But it’s going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we’ve done on– on unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.

And you know, the truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem. I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy.

So what we have is an announcement of the executive action as a simple matter of time by way of an announcement of its delay.

If this approach was intended to tamp down a negative reaction from immigration reform activists and Latino opinion-leaders generally, it hasn’t worked very well so far, as cries of betrayal have quickly filled the air. This tweet from Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos (whose exceptional influence was explained in a 2012 profile at WaMo by Laura Colarusso) was illustrative:

The bigger question is how Republicans will react. They could choose to make this a primary theme of their stretch runs in red-state Senate races, asking nativist base voters to turn out massively in order to stop Obama’s latest tyrannical action by “sending a message” it’s unacceptable. But at this late date are they willing to recalibrate their campaigns and take on the burden of explaining the intricacies of a DACA expansion in the absence of a specific proposal to attack? That’s not so clear. The president himself is going to significantly reduce discussion of immigration this week by making a major speech on Iraq and Syria.

It’s also possible the administration believes the “crisis” atmosphere associated with the border refugee upsurge this summer will rapidly subside, allowing the underlying majority support for comprehensive immigration reform to reemerge. And it’s equally possible I’m overthinking this and the White House simply couldn’t say no to three or four Democratic Senate candidates begging him not to take any action that could cost them a point or two. We’ll be in a much better position to know how this gamble will all work out in a week or so, with the initial anger from immigration reform advocates has had a chance to boil off, and we see if this issue is waxing or waning in key campaigns around the country.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.