At a briefing last week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest essentially admitted that President Obama’s decision to delay his unilateral immigration amnesty until after the 2014 election was entirely about politics. “The concern,” Earnest explained, “is that had the president moved forward with his announcement prior to Election Day, you would have seen Republican candidates do more to make the immigration issue central to their campaign. And in the event that they were successful in their campaign, the concern would be that they would cite their opposition to immigration reform as a reason for their success. That is not a storyline that the president wanted, or that anybody here wanted to contribute to.”
In other words, the White House understands just how unpopular an executive amnesty would be. The cynicism here is truly remarkable, even by Washington standards. Obama is vowing to take the sort of unilateral action that he himself once admitted “would be very difficult to defend legally,” but he also wants to avoid any serious debate of that action before voters head to the polls. Hence the delay.
The main issue at stake is not immigration policy (though it’s worth noting that the Administration’s lax enforcement policies were clearly were a major factor driving the recent illegal influx of Central American minors). Whatever one thinks about a large-scale amnesty initiative, anyone who supports genuinely lawful and sustainable immigration policies should be disgusted with Obama’s willingness to shred the Constitution. To quote the Wall Street Journal editorial page (which has long supported “comprehensive immigration reform,” including some type of amnesty program): “A one-man diktat timed to avoid democratic accountability is the opposite of sustainable. It is guaranteed to promote more political strife and polarization.”
There was a time, not so long ago, when President Obama used to talk that way. In March 2011, for example, he said: “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.” Even after he ignored those laws by unilaterally freezing deportations of the so-called DREAMers, Obama said that expanding his deportation freeze to include illegal-immigrant adults was “not an option.” As recently as last November, when a heckler in San Francisco urged him to implement a broader amnesty via executive order, the president responded by saying: “If in fact I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws — that’s part of our tradition — and so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws.”
It would be nice if more reporters would read these past statements to Josh Earnest — or, better yet, to Obama himself — and then ask a simple, three-word question: What has changed?