My favorite moment in John Boehner’s post-election, in-Obama’s-face press conference Thursday afternoon was when a reporter, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, ask him this question:
Mr. Speaker, you have a new crop of conservatives coming into the House who have suggested, among other things, that women need to submit to the authority of their husbands, that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ, and that feel that the Sandy Hook victims should just get over it. So, the “Hell No!” caucus,” as you put it, is getting bigger and some of them think you’re not conservative enough. How will you deal with them differently than you did in the last Congress?
The way that question was set up was priceless. But the question itself was absolutely the right question to ask. Problem is, Boehner didn’t answer it. What he said, in my loose translation, was essentially this: Look, you’re right, there are some nuts in the new crop, but most of the new guys are “good candidates.” Yikes.
The reason Boehner couldn’t answer that question is pretty simple. He has no idea how he will deal with the Hell No! caucus. I mean, how do you deal with, say, the “Neo-Confederate Christofascist” who just got elected in Maryland? And he may not be the nuttiest new member, to say nothing of the nuts who were reelected. Boehner knows controlling these people is going to be harder than ever before, since the caucus, though larger, is also much more reactionary and since his members, with the Senate as partners, will expect real ideological action, not pragmatic compromise of any shape or form.
And speaking of the Senate, it is the same for McConnell. His majority in January will be much more radically conservative than the minority he leads now. He knows how difficult it will be to rein in Ted Cruz and other extremists, especially now that they have zealous reinforcements in the persons of Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, David Perdue, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner and probably Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (after a runoff on December 6).
So, now that we have heard from the two gloating GOP leaders, as well as a strangely but touchingly romantic President Obama (“I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states”), what should our side, meaning our leader who will today meet with Boehner and McConnell, do? The clue is in what both Republican leaders have now famously said relative to immigration reform. Both of them went out of their way to assert that if Obama takes executive action to help fix the immigration mess, it will “poison the well.” That very much sounds like a threat, right? Boehner said, which everyone is quoting,
When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.
Yes, that sounds like a threat. It sounds like an impeachment threat. But there is another way of interpreting his language. It is a plea. It is Boehner begging Obama not to set his House caucus on fire, not to make the job of herding his members, which under the best of circumstances is close to impossible, completely impossible to do. And McConnell, too, is begging the President not to give Ted Cruz and the other nuts in his caucus their own matches to play with, matches they will use to burn not just Obama, but burn the whole damned place to the ground.
Listen to what John McCain said on Thursday afternoon:
I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.
It couldn’t be any plainer. No relatively sensible leader in the GOP (and I emphasize the qualifier, “relatively sensible”) wants Obama to act because they know what will happen to their party. The impeachment circus will come to town. There will be freak shows with bearded ladies and two-headed men talking about the President’s lawlessness. There will be Obama-hating fire breathers and glass eaters on every news show. The Cruz-led clowns will come out and shut down the government.
That’s what would happen if Obama were to do what, in his own press conference, he indicated he was going to do sometime this year:
...we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern. And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed. And if they want to get a bill done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year — I’m eager to see what they have to offer.
But what I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.
He said a bit later:
But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting. There is a cost to waiting. There’s a cost to our economy. It means that resources are misallocated…separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country. So where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that.
Well, he should have already been “started on that,” but that’s another argument. What he should do now is light the match of executive action and move as boldly as any generous reading of the law will allow. There are two reasons for doing this, one moral and one political.
The moral reason: Such executive action will actually help real people in real time and it won’t get done otherwise. De-prioritizing deportation action against non-criminals who are here without documentation, particularly folks who have been here a long time and have family here, would do a lot of instant good.
Not only that, Obama could, and should, go further and build upon his executive move in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As the Immigration Policy Center pointed out, that action has, as of March of this year, helped more than half a million undocumented young people gain “widened access to the American mainstream,” including legally joining the workforce and attending college. Many legal minds believe the President has the executive authority to go further, as Talking Points Memo pointed out:
The American Immigration Lawyers Association has recommended an expanded deferred action program for close family members (including parents, children, spouses and siblings) of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and DACA beneficiaries.
“Technically under the law there is not a specific constraint preventing the president from designating a broad category of individuals for whom he’s going to suspend enforcement against,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director for [the American Immigration Lawyers Association].
That would be a lot of people that President Obama could help immediately, if not permanently. And there is exactly no reason, given what we have seen Republicans do on this issue for the last two years, to think that those undocumented people will get any relief from right-wingers in Congress. The President said himself yesterday:
I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take. Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.
Exactly. And nothing has changed except those anti-reform folks have grown stronger.
The political reason: As far as politics, the reason the President should proceed with executive action on immigration is that it would do two things. As I suggested above, it would throw Republicans in Congress into ideological convulsions, which would be both entertaining and electorally useful. And that’s worth doing even if that were the only reason. But executive action would also certainly strengthen the attachment between Hispanics and the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential election, an election we obviously cannot now afford to lose.
It’s no secret that the President’s hesitation to act this summer on the immigration issue hurt the Democratic Party. If he does nothing this year, if he waits too long for Republicans to act when there is almost no chance of their acting, then the unfortunate—and unwarranted—apathy we saw this past election among Hispanics will likely get worse.
Look at this from NBC News:
Hispanic voters made up only 8 percent of 2014 voters, compared to 10 percent in 2012, a disappointment to voter advocates who hoped that Latino votes would increase at least due to the growing population. In 2010, the last midterm election year, they were 7 percent of voters, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.
And Democrats did not garner the support they were hoping to get from Latino voters.
In 2012, Democrats enjoyed a wide margin over Republicans; 71 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama to 27 percent for Romney – a 44 percent advantage for the Dems. But as NBC News’ Carrie Dann reports, in Tuesday’s elections Hispanics voted for Democrats by a margin of 28 percent.
If President Obama unilaterally acts this year on immigration, he will have done all he can to make life better for undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanics. That would be the right thing to do no matter the politics. But it would also help whoever is the Democratic presidential nominee and the many Democratic candidates running in 2016.
Exit polling from this last election, as bad as the election was for Democrats, showed that 57% of voters believe that undocumented immigrants should have “a chance to apply for legal status.” Most non-Tea Party folks, by the time the next election comes around—the electorate will be more Democratic than Republican—will have forgotten about Obama’s executive action—his DACA order wasn’t an issue on Tuesday. But Hispanics everywhere will remember, and it will be much easier to get them to the polls to vote, and to vote for Democrats.
Bottom line: There simply is no good reason for President Obama to wait too long on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to figure out how to work a miracle and get an immigration reform bill— one that Democrats could support—through this lame-duck Congress or through a much more conservative Congress next year. But there are moral and political reasons for him to act in the next month or so.
Do it, Mr. President. And then we’ll all get our popcorn and sit back and watch the Tea Party circus.