Obama May Punt On Executive Action On Immigration, Even After The Election

Will the President back track on his promise of further action on immigration if the GOP wins the Senate?

Obama Immigration Protesters

When the summer began, President Obama had said that he was directing his advisers to come up with a list of actions he could take on immigration that would not require the approval of Congress. This step had been rumored for some time, having been hinted about by Administration officials and was believed to include consideration of measures such as expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that the President had announced two years earlier. As the summer wore on, though, reports circulated that many Democrats running for re-election in red states were urging the Administration to delay action until after the election for fear that anything announced before them would doom their campaigns. Last month, President Obama did in fact announce that there would be no action taken before the election, an action for which he received a lot of criticism from Latino organizations and immigration rights groups, Since that announcement, the underlying assumption has been that we would indeed some kind of action from the President after the election, perhaps during the lame duck period before the new Congress takes office. Matt Yglesias, though, seems pretty convinced that the Administration may punt on the issue again depending on the outcome of the elections:

President Barack Obama says that after the midterm election he’s going to use his executive authority to create a fairly broad de facto amnesty program for many undocumented migrants living in the United States.

I’m just not sure I believe him.

Not that I doubt the president’s sincerity. I haven’t gazed into his soul on the subject, but the best read I have on White House officials is that they genuinely believe that they are going to do this. I just think they may be mistaken about their own likely behavior. Especially if Republicans take the Senate — which seems likely — it’s easy for me to imagine that they will look around at the new November landscape and have a change of heart.

(…)

Even if Republicans take the Senate, they still can’t stop Obama from following through on his promise. But as Brian Beutler writes, if the GOP takes the Senate they’ll be position “to place ‘executive amnesty’ at the center of proximate fights over funding the government and increasing the debt limit.” And the basic dynamic where Democratic Senators from states with low Latino populations aren’t eager to have a huge throwdown over the issue would remain in place. The odds of the White House losing its nerve as part of a strategy to hold the party together in sure-to-be-grueling battles with congressional Republicans seem high.

Further reducing the odds that Obama will plow ahead in the face of a bad election result is the relative silence of Hillary Clinton on the issue. If Democrats were having a normal 2016 presidential primary, you’d expect to see leading contenders out there making statements about their hope that the president will deliver for immigrants. But Clinton, not facing any robust opposition, is so far mostly dodging questions from immigrant activists and talking about the need to “elect more Democrats.” If activists don’t have the leverage to get a clear statement of support out of a presidential candidate, it seems unlikely that they really have the muscle to force the White House to act if the political climate is unfavorable.

Such a move would, of course, be incredibly disappointing to Latino voters and immigration activists, and with the 2016 election approaching soon after the midterms, it seems inconceivable at first glance that the President would throw this group of voters completely under the bus after having dangled the promise of some kind of action in front of them for the better part of a year. If nothing else, such a move would risk damaging Democratic Party fortunes going forward not so much because these voters would suddenly switch loyalty to the GOP, but because they would be likely to just stay home on Election Day and become less active in campaigns. This would do as much harm to the party’s fortunes as voting for the opposing party, if not more. Looking at this purely from the perspective of partisan politics, then, it seems inconceivable that the President would do something that would clearly be seen as a slap in the face to an important and growing constituency, and an important part of the Democratic coalition.

That being said, I believe that Yglesias is on to something when he argues that a Republican victory in November is likely to spook the President into either scaling back the executive action that was planned to make it much more modest than it might otherwise have been, or to put it off altogether in favor of another push for immigration reform in the 114th Congress that will likely not go anywhere. As he notes, in the context of a Congress fully controlled by Republicans, there will be tremendous pressure to delay action in order to get things like budgeting and other tasks needed to keep the government functioning. Even some Democrats are likely to be less than enthusiastic about the idea given the electoral price they could pay in the future. Finally, there’s the simple fact that President Obama has backed down on this issue in the past, and that a plausible case can be made that immigration reform is not important enough an issue to tie up the Federal Budget or other operations of government.

So, if the GOP does win the Senate, don’t be too surprised if we don’t see any executive action at all, or if we do that it is substantially more modest than previously hinted at.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Campaign 2014, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Well, Obama did say the election was going to be a referendum on his administration’s policies.

    Not to mention, Obama’s relevancy will be in rapid decline after the election if it goes Republican. More distancing by those Dems with hopes in 2016 should become the top sport in DC for 2015.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Given that Obama wants something other than a 1,500 mile border wall from California to Texas and massive deportations, and the fact that Republicans do not want him to do anything by Executive Order, frankly, I don’t know why Republicans would complain if Obama did nothing (except for his caving in and doing exactly what Republicans want, they would have nothing to complain about.)

  3. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:

    Obama’s relevancy will be in rapid decline after the election if it goes Republican.

    Really? You don’t think his veto pen is going to be relevant? Good luck getting the hyper-partisan crap the house has been passing (pun intended) for 4 years into law. That irrelevant guy is going to have writers cramp.

  4. Grewgills says:

    If nothing else, such a move would risk damaging Democratic Party fortunes going forward not so much because these voters would suddenly switch loyalty to the GOP, but because they would be likely to just stay home on Election Day and become less active in campaigns. This would do as much harm to the party’s fortunes as voting for the opposing party, if not more.

    That makes no sense. How would a group abstaining do more harm than them actively voting for the opposition. How is a one vote swing worse than a two vote swing?

  5. JohnMcC says:

    The electoral effect on the ‘Hispanic vote’ of a sweeping amnesty and a vigorous defense by the Administration faced with numerous efforts to kill it by Repub majorities in both Houses would be wonderful. I hope the President doesn’t back down. As you say, he has not shown the sort of Trumanesque cussedness that would make us believe he’s going to do that; maybe Mr Yglesias has a strong point. I think Barack still — after all this time — hopes Repubs are going to actually bargain with him.

    In any case, it doesn’t seem likely that Dems will get the votes of any fervent opponents of comprehensive immigration reform in the context of a Presidential election so I don’t think executive amnesty following the ’14 election will determine the ’16 races.

  6. edmondo says:

    …. I don’t know why Republicans would complain if Obama did nothing (except for his caving in and doing exactly what Republicans want,

    That sounds a lot like ObamaCare, doesn’t it?

  7. Barry says:

    @JKB: “Not to mention, Obama’s relevancy will be in rapid decline after the election if it goes Republican. More distancing by those Dems with hopes in 2016 should become the top sport in DC for 2015.”

    Idiot.

  8. Barry says:

    @edmondo: “That sounds a lot like ObamaCare, doesn’t it?”

    English, please?

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Such a move would, of course, be incredibly disappointing to Latino voters and immigration activists, and with the 2016 election approaching soon after the midterms, it seems inconceivable at first glance that the President would throw this group of voters completely under the bus after having dangled the promise of some kind of action in front of them for the better part of a year.

    You’re kidding, right? Obama hesitate to throw ANYONE under the bus? That’s his stock move. Now I know you’re just phoning it in.

    Also, remember, this amnesty move is incredibly popular and loved and supported among Americans. So how could it possibly hurt Obama and the Democrats to keep pushing it back?

  10. al-Ameda says:

    @edmondo:

    That sounds a lot like ObamaCare, doesn’t it?

    Yes we are all well aware of the fact that Republicans attempted to leverage their demand that ACA be rescinded or in some manner defunded against a shutdown of government and a possible default on American securities. They hoped that Obama would completely appease them and cave in to their demands.

    So yes, one could infer that Republicans want Obama to cave in and accede to their demands for mass deportations and more border walls and enforcement.

  11. Tyrell says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Under the bus”: you must be talking about those buses loaded with illegal immigrants rolling through this country like it is the first lap of the Daytona 500; being sent to parts of the country without considering whether the towns and communities could take care of them with the resources available and all the funding cuts. The politicians tell them “come on in, just don’t stop in our state” Yes, the government is throwing the taxpayers under the bus.The buses should be stopped, give them a bathroom break and a free Happy Meal, turn the buses around and send them back home: “this field trip is over !!”
    Make no mistake, this is not about legal immigration reform, it is about illegal immigration reform ! “Undocumented” if you please, for the pc crowd. Undocumented withdrawal: new term for bank robbery. We would not want to offend our bank robbers !
    The president was told about this problem last year and took no action. Again, leading from behind.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    The president was told about this problem last year and took no action. Again, leading from behind.

    “Leading from behind” is Republican code for “he won’t do exactly as we want him to do.”

    Republicans want no part of Obama’s proposed action on virtually everything including immigration, and they turn around and complain about presidential inaction, when that’s exactly what they want. This is cynical and almost … almost … laughable. If Obama took action by way of Executive Order then they’d be complaining about the president’s lack of inaction.

  13. Guarneri says:

    @Barry:

    Insightfull response. I guess the Clintonistas hitting the airwaves these days is chance…….

  14. Guarneri says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Yes, it is a shame Obama became President during the first recorded incidence of party opposition in the history of earth. Luck of the draw I guess…..snake bit.

  15. anjin-san says:

    @Guarneri:

    Well there is opposition, which we have always had, and then there is opposition without loyalty, which we have only had once before now.

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @anjin-san: Well there is opposition, which we have always had, and then there is opposition without loyalty, which we have only had once before now.

    And that “once before” was when, exactly?

  17. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    That would be 1861, and frankly, it’s a lot of the same folk.

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: That would be 1861, and frankly, it’s a lot of the same folk.

    Do you mean Democrats, or people still alive 154 years later?

    Sorry, stone. It’s nice of you to throw yourself on the grenade for annie, but I’d like annie to finish his thought himself. He’s a master of implying things, but never quite actually saying them — then mocking those who draw the conclusion he wants them to make.

    Come on, annie. Finish your thought. Spell out just what you meant. Just this once.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    That would be 1861, and frankly, it’s a lot of the same folk.

    Do you mean Democrats, or people still alive 154 years later?

    Basically, he means what we now refer to as ‘Red State America.’

  20. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @al-Ameda: Basically, he means what we now refer to as ‘Red State America.’

    You’re assuming what he means. I want to hear it from him directly.

    For all we know, he could be referring to Congressman Samuel Dickstein (D-NY), who was a paid spy for the Soviet Union, or Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who tried to conspire with the Soviets to thwart President Reagan’s policies.

    Only anjin can definitively say what he meant by what he said. And he isn’t exactly rushing to do so. It’s nice of you and stonetools to offer your own interpretations, though.

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It’s nice of you and stonetools to offer your own interpretations, though.

    You’re welcome.

  22. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who tried to conspire with the Soviets to thwart President Reagan’s policies.

    Sure would like to hear more about this conspiracy theory. Tell me, does the ghost of Lee Harvey Oswald figure in this?

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: Here, entertain yourself while anjin finds far more important things than actually saying something of substance.

    I’ve gotten bored with his routine — he strongly infers something, then mocks those (well, usually me) who actually think he meant what he said. And while it’s thoughtful of you to step up and say explicitly what he lacks the testicular fortitude to say himself, don’t hold your breath waiting for him to thank you.

  24. al-Ameda says:

    @stonetools:

    Jenos: For all we know, he could be referring to Congressman Samuel Dickstein (D-NY), who was a paid spy for the Soviet Union, or Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who tried to conspire with the Soviets to thwart President Reagan’s policies.

    Stonetools: Sure would like to hear more about this conspiracy theory. Tell me, does the ghost of Lee Harvey Oswald figure in this?

    I’m going to check the Zapruder Footage, I’ll get back to you on that one.

  25. Tyrell says:

    One idea for the president would be to form a committee of average, working people to kick around some ideas and come up with a plan. This would include legal immigrants (“documented” if you please). Put them up in a hotel for a weekend with a lot of good food. Then there will be a plan. Politicians would sit this one out – stay at their golf courses. Let the people decide some things instead of politicians who are bought and paid for.

  26. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    Politicians would sit this one out – stay at their golf courses. Let the people decide some things instead of politicians who are bought and paid for.

    You know, some states have initiative processes that enable voters to bypass politicians and pass initiatives (laws) that sometimes permit discrimination and deny equal protection.

    So, turning things over to ‘the people,’ the same people who elect the politicians whom they perceive to be the problem, does not really interest me very much. If ‘the people’ would start electing politicians who actually cared about responsible governance maybe we wouldn’t be in the predicament we’re in right now?

  27. Tyrell says:

    Ok, fair enough. The president needs to talk to the people directly about this issue. What sort of action does he want to take ? Complete amnesty ? Some sort of step program with required action on the part of illegals ? How much will it cost taxpayers ? How about towns and communities that are already strapped for funding programs for our own citizens ? And how about refugees in other countries who are waiting to enter the country legally – what are you going to do for them ? And he needs to be clear about what he wants to do – don’t speak in vagueries about this, or political doubletalk. And get Boehner on there with him. Let them sit down together and hash things out. They might actually accomplish something.
    “No new taxes!”
    “This field trip is over!!”