If you’re President Barack Obama, why would you thumb your nose at Congress — figuratively, if not literally? That’s exactly what the President did last Thursday night when he announced that he will use his executive power to provide a measure of security, at least temporarily, for millions of immigrants illegally in the United States.
The answer to the question comes down to one word: politics.
Clearly, the President is frustrated by congressional inaction on the immigration issue. A comprehensive immigration overhaul received bipartisan approval in the Senate last year, but was stalled when Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the measure before the Republican-controlled House. It has languished ever since, even though both parties agree that the nation’s badly broken immigration system is in need of attention.
Coming on the heels of an election that saw Democrats take a beating across the country, and a turnaround that will make Republicans the Senate majority in January, Obama’s unilateral action clearly is aimed — at least in part — at generating greater support for Democrats from a rapidly growing Hispanic population in the 2016 elections. The President’s measures would extend deportation protections to immigrant parents of children born in the United States and permanent residents, as long as those parents have been here for five years. The protection also would extend to young immigrants not now protected under a 2012 presidential directive. Those measures could make as many as five million immigrants eligible for work permits.
Obama’s plan doubtless will have great short-term appeal to Hispanic citizens and immigrants. But at what cost?
Republicans, who in the days following the election had given at least lip service to the notion of greater cooperation with the White House, are incensed and looking for ways to resist. Even some Senate Democrats are not happy with the President’s unilateral approach, saying that they would prefer to wait for Congress to take the lead. While Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will become majority leader in January, and Boehner both have said another government shutdown is off the table, some conservative members of their own party don’t agree and are considering counter-measures that could force a deadlock over continued spending to keep the government functioning.
There’s also the possibility that Obama’s measures, after being welcomed by the country’s Hispanics, could be overturned by congressional action or by order of a new president two years down the road, throwing the fate of millions of illegal immigrants back in doubt.
For the President to take such a belligerent posture, rather than doubling down on efforts to bring congressional Republicans and Democrats together on a comprehensive solution to the vexing immigration problem, puts any hope of rapprochement between the two parties even further away.