Democratic Governors Warn White House On Immigration
Several Democratic Governors are apparently concerned about the political impact of the Obama Administration’s lawsuit against Arizona’s immigration law:
BOSTON — In a private meeting with White House officials this weekend, Democratic governors voiced deep anxiety about the Obama administration’s suit against Arizona’s new immigration law, worrying that it could cost a vulnerable Democratic Party in the fall elections.
While the weak economy dominated the official agenda at the summer meeting here of the National Governors Association, concern over immigration policy pervaded the closed-door session between Democratic governors and White House officials and simmered throughout the three-day event.
At the Democrats’ meeting on Saturday, some governors bemoaned the timing of the Justice Department lawsuit, according to two governors who spoke anonymously because the discussion was private.
“Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs,’ ” Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, said in an interview. “And all of a sudden we have immigration going on.”
He added, “It is such a toxic subject, such an important time for Democrats.”
Some Democrats also joined Republicans in calling for Congress to pass an immigration policy overhaul this year.
“There are 535 members of Congress,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, a Democrat. “Certainly somebody back there can chew gum and hold the basketball at the same time. This is not an either-or.”
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico praised the Justice Department’s lawsuit, saying his fellow Democrats’ concerns were “misguided.”
“Policy-wise it makes sense,” said Mr. Richardson, who is Hispanic and who leaves office this year on term limits, “and Obama is popular with Hispanic voters and this is going to be a popular move with them nationally.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland — a Democrat who voiced apprehension about the lawsuit in the private meeting, according to the two governors who requested anonymity — said in an interview that he supported it.
“The president doesn’t have control over some of the timing of things that happen,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When those things arise, you can’t be too precious about what’s in it for your own personal political timing or even your party’s timing. When matters like this arise, I think the president has to take a principled stand.”
But Mr. Bredesen said that in Tennessee, where the governor’s race will be tight this year, Democratic candidates were already on the defensive about the federal health care overhaul, and the suit against Arizona further weakened them. In Tennessee, he said, Democratic candidates are already “disavowing” the immigration lawsuit.
“Maybe you do that when you’re strong,” he said of the suit, “and not when there’s an election looming out there.”
Leaving aside for the moment the merits of either Arizona’s law or the Federal lawsuit, it does seem that the White House is making some very odd political choices here. Polls have shown repeatedly that a large majority of Americans support Arizona’s law and a new polls shows that similar majorities oppose the Justice Department’s decision to sue the State of Arizona. Politically, the White House is clearly on the wrong side of this issue.
While politics shouldn’t necessarily influence a decision to challenge a law that may very well be unconstitutional, the lawsuit is just the latest example of what has been a very odd response to the Arizona law by the White House. From the beginning, the White House has seemingly treated Arizona, and its Governor, as the enemy and has declined to put forward any real immigration policy of its own.
While I don’t think it’s fair to say that the White House is holding border security hostage to a deal on amnesty, as Jon Kyl and John McCain have claimed, it seems clear to me that they’ve mishandled this issue as badly as the Republicans have. The difference is that the GOP seems to be on the popular side of the issue while the President seems content to treat immigration as an academic debate without political consequence. Something tells me that strategy isn’t going to work.