President to Delay Executive Action Till After Election, Because It May Frustrate Future Efforts To Pass Legislation

September 6th, 2014

The AP reports that President Obama has decided to delay any unilateral executive action on immigration, at least till after the election in November.

Abandoning his pledge to act by the end of summer, President Barack Obama has decided to delay any executive action on immigration until after the November congressional elections, White House officials said.

The move instantly infuriated immigration advocates while offering relief to some vulnerable Democrats in tough Senate re-election contests.

Why? Because taking unilateral action may frustrate his ability to pass future legislation.

Two White House officials said Obama concluded that circumventing Congress through executive actions on immigration during the campaign would politicize the issue and hurt future efforts to pass a broad overhaul.

Now, I think the White House means this in the electoral sense–vulnerable Democrats may lose office if the President acts alone. Therefore, it will be harder to get to break the 60-vote block in the Senate. Why do I think this? Because he plans to act at some point between November and January. How convenient.

The officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but that he still would take his executive steps before the end of the year. …

Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Obama advisers were not convinced that any presidential action would affect the elections. But the officials said the discussions around timing grew more pronounced within the past few weeks.

Ultimately, the advisers drew a lesson from 1994 when Democratic losses were blamed on votes for gun-control legislation, undermining any interest in passing future gun measures.

White House officials said aides realized that if Obama’s immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later on.

But, this is true in the broader sense–Congress will be less willing to work with the President if he takes it upon himself to act alone. It decreases incentives to pass legislation when you know the Executive will not faithfully execute it.

Update: The NY Times has more details:

“Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said. “Because he wants to do this in a way that’s sustainable, the president will take action on immigration before the end of the year.” …

Administration officials insist that Mr. Obama is more determined than ever to take action — eventually. But the president and his top aides have concluded that an immigration announcement before November could anger conservatives across the country, possibly cripple Democratic efforts to retain control of the Senate and severely set back any hope for progress on a permanent immigration overhaul.

In particular, advisers to Mr. Obama believe that an announcement before the midterm elections in November would inject the controversial issue into a highly charged campaign environment that would encourage members of both parties to take more hard-line positions on the issue than they normally would.

That could drive away support for what the president’s advisers believe are common-sense changes to the immigration system, even among Democrats. One adviser said that if immigration was seen as costing Democrats control of the Senate — even if other issues were really to blame — immigration could become toxic for years in both parties, much like gun control did after the issue was blamed for Democratic losses in 1994. …

Mr. Obama acknowledged that the surge in unaccompanied children at the border undermined public support for a broader immigration overhaul. He said delaying any executive action would give the administration more time to get the policy right and explain it to the public.

“I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” to be broadcast Sunday. “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 unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.”

The president and his team believe that waiting until after the election season is over will allow him to unveil sweeping and sustainable changes to the immigration system that could potentially shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and provide work permits for many.

“The president is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year,” one official said, speaking anonymously to discuss White House strategy. ..

“The decision to simply delay this deeply controversial and possibly unconstitutional unilateral action until after the election — instead of abandoning the idea altogether — smacks of raw politics,” Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said.

Senator Lamar Alexander Tennessee, said, “The founders of our country did not want a king, and the American people do not want a president who acts like one.” He called Mr. Obama’s decision a “shameful presidential trick.”

The president’s decision on Saturday underscores the difficulties of his broader pledge to use the powers of his office to govern in the face of a gridlocked Congress. Those efforts have already sparked a Republican lawsuit alleging that the president has abused his authority and is building an “imperial presidency.” And he has faced intense political pressure from his Democratic allies to delay such actions.

The timing of an announcement had developed into a serious political problem for the president. By saying he would act on his own, Mr. Obama heightened expectations among Hispanics that he would finally address the deportation fears of 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in the United States for decades and have been law-abiding members of their communities.

And more on Meet the Press:

“The truth of the matter is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem,” Obama said in the interview, which will air on Sunday’s Meet the Press on NBC. “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.”

“What I’m saying is that I’m going to act because it’s the right thing for the country,” he said. “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 unaccompanied children, and why it’s necessary.”

White House officials confirmed to NBC News earlier Saturday that the president will delay any executive action on immigration until after November.

“The reality the President has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the President believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections,” a White House official said.

 Update: More from NYTimes.

WASHINGTON — By the time Senator Angus King called the White House to warn President Obama against taking executive action to overhaul the immigration system, officials were well aware they had a problem on their hands.

What had once looked like a clear political imperative for both parties — action to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants — had morphed instead into what appeared to be a risky move that could cost Democrats their majority in the November midterm congressional elections.

It was that concern, shared by members of Mr. Obama’s inner circle as well as other members of Congress, White House officials said, that ultimatelyprompted the president to break the promise he made on June 30 in the Rose Garden to act on his own before summer’s end to fix the immigration system.

After a summer in which a surge of Central American migrants into the United States at the southern border had reawakened public worries and anger about immigration, and with Republicans running attack ads against Democratic senators on the topic, the issue had simply become too toxic and combustible for Mr. Obama.

“If we were to act in this political hothouse environment, that would undermine the long-term ability to finish the job on immigration reform,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

But Mr. King, a Maine independent who is a member of the Democratic caucus, warned Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, of yet another nightmare scenario: Unilateral action by the president might undermine the prospects for bipartisan agreement on a broad immigration overhaul for years to come.

White House officials said it became clear in recent weeks that the crisis had created a mistaken impression that the border was not secure, thus sapping support for further action to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants. Republicans seized on that perception, arguing that Mr. Obama’s 2012 directive shielding certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation had prompted the surge.

In the end, though, it was a cautionary tale from 20 years ago that swayed Mr. Obama and his team.

An important “object lesson,” said one official, was the 1994 crime bill, which then-President Bill Clinton pushed through before that year’s midterm elections, in which his party lost control of the House for the first time in four decades. Many Democrats, including some who work at the White House, believe the passage of that legislation — which included the federal assault weapons ban — doomed a dozen of their candidates and has made the gun issue a toxic one for members of their party to this day.

“It affects the psychology of the folks on the Hill and emboldens the opponents,” the official said. “What would be the worst of all worlds would be to act and lose the election, and have people say it was because of immigration reform.”