Battle Lines on DACA Expansion: Responsible Executive Action Versus the New Court-Packing Power Grab

There’s little question what the president’s burden of persuasion will be tonight. Greg Sargent sums it up:

[T]here is little question that Democrats face a major challenge in persuading the public to support what Obama is set to announce tomorrow. The NBC poll tells the story nicely: While only 38 percent support executive action, it also finds that 57 percent support a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, which suggests that even people who agree with Democrats on what needs to be done on immigration may have a tough time accepting unilateral action on the issue.

Greg goes on to point out that support for a “path to citizenship” actually balloons into the 70s when the conditions for achieving citizenship in, say, the Senate-passed legislation are explained, and similar conditions, of course, are attached to the much more limited protections Obama will be offering certain categories of the undocumented in the new initiative. That’s why Democrats will be at pains to go into details on the initiative, and compare it to an intolerable status quo that congressional Republicans (in part because of their internal divisions) cannot and will not deal with. And that’s why the GOP will be equally at pains to focus on the process by which this decision was made rather than its substance.

Earlier this week I suggested opponents of the executive action will in effect be treating it as an equivalent to FDR’s “court-packing” initiative of 1937, generally viewed as his one major political error (though it did indirectly achieve its purpose as the Supreme Court quietly shifted from its determination to take down the New Deal). It will be interesting to see if the explicit comparison is made in the days ahead. But even if it’s not, the dynamic of focusing on process rather than substance (with the reverse for Obama and his allies) is almost certain to persist. After all, each side’s core constituency on this issue is pre-committed to support for or opposition to the initiative; Latino immigration advocates obviously expect Obama to test the limits of his executive authority and conservative neo-nativists would oppose “amnesty” even if they couldn’t find a single lawyer to challenge the president’s constitutional and statutory prerogatives. To the extent that public opinion matters here, the real battle will be over those people who basically favor immigration reform but really wish Congress would deal with it.

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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.