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Friday, November 21, 2014

Obama stymies GOP with immigration move

Legal Scholars: Obama’s Immigration Actions Lawful


President Barack Obama’s announced immigration executive actions are lawful, a group of ten prominent legal scholars wrote in a joint letter shared by the White House with TIME magazine. 

Pushing back on Republicans who have blasted Obama’s action as unconstitutional and unlawful, the signatories include Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, conservative legal scholar Eric Posner, and former Yale Law School Dean and former State Department Legal Advisor Harold Hongju Koh.

“While we differ among ourselves on many issues relating to Presidential power and immigration policy, we are all of the view that these actions are lawful,” the professors wrote. “They are exercises of prosecutorial discretion that are consistent with governing law and with the policies that Congress has expressed in the statutes that it has enacted.”

The letter reinforces a Justice Department opinion that the president’s actions were lawful. The same memorandum noted that the Office of Legal Counsel believed that extending prosecutorial discretion to prevent deportations of the parents of those granted deferred action in 2012 would not be lawful, providing Obama cover from criticism from advocates who wanted the president to do more.

 Republicans confront own worst enemy on immigration

Ahead of President Obama's prime-time address announcing his plans to take executive action on immigration policy, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) released this message saying Obama actions are not "how our democracy works." (YouTube/John Boehner)
November 20 at 10:32 PM
Just two weeks ago, Republicans handed President Obama a humiliating defeat at the polls, winning full control of Congress. But already, party leaders fear that the conservative uproar over the president’s immigration actions will doom any hopes for a stable period of GOP governance.

The moves announced Thursday night by Obama — which will protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation — have sparked an immediate and widening rebellion among tea party lawmakers that top Republicans are struggling to contain.

Despite expanded powers and some new titles, soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) remain sharply limited in their ability to persuade their most conservative members. The duo has been thrust back into the same cycle of intraparty warfare that has largely defined the GOP during the Obama years and that has hurt the party’s brand among the broader electorate.

“It is the first real challenge for Boehner and McConnell together,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), a Boehner ally. “They’d like to wipe the slate clean for when they start up next year, with this situation behind us.”

In his prime-time speech from the East Room of the White House, Obama blamed Republicans for forcing his hand by refusing to approve immigration reform and told them, “Pass a bill.” He also cast the issue in moral terms, quoting Scripture to bolster his case. 

During his speech on immigration reform, President Obama called on illegal immigrants to "come out of the shadows" and "get right with the law." (AP)

But comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely to pass a Republican-held Congress, because of partisan hostilities in Washington. Still, GOP leaders badly want to show the country that the party can govern constructively, even if it is not clear whether they can keep their raucous conference united.

McConnell and Boehner, for example, want to approve a long-term spending bill at least through the early part of next year — part of an effort to limit theatrical confrontations with Obama and focus on tax reform and other Republican-friendly issues.

But conservatives inside and outside Congress want to use the budget process as a battleground to wage war against Obama and his immigration program. The proposed gambit raises the specter of another government shutdown, akin to the one that damaged Republicans last year.

The debate is also a test of whether the party can contain the controversial and sometimes offensive comments that have often hindered attempts to bolster support for Republicans among Hispanics. After tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said on Wednesday that protected immigrants would become “illiterate” voters, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) winced.

“Unfortunate, unfair, unnecessary, unwise,” said Graham, who is close to party leaders.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate from the Philadelphia exurbs, said the leadership is asking his colleagues to “not play into the president’s hands.”

“The president wants to see an angry and intemperate response, thinking the Republicans will do something that leads to a shutdown,” Dent said. “Don’t take the bait, and don’t have a hysterical reaction. We can be strong, rational and measured.”

GOP Reaction will be way more damaging than they realize

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There are several reasons why Obama’s executive action on immigration has put Republicans in a terrible bind. There’s the fact that conservatives are likely to respond by demanding a hardline position from the party’s 2016 nominee, torpedoing his or her electability. There’s the growing risk that conservative anger will force Republicans to do something epically stupid in the near term, like shut down the government.

Both of these reactions would be damaging. But, in fact, there’s a far deeper kind of damage that conservatives are about to inflict on themselves. It has the potential to set the party back years.

Anyone who’s followed politics during the Obama era has probably noticed that conservatives love to couch their positions in the language of process. So, for example, conservatives rarely admit they want to disenfranchise poor people and African Americans. They talk about the scourge of voter fraud, and the cosmic unfairness of letting ineligible people cast votes. (Never mind that documented cases of voter fraud are about as frequent as space-craft landings on comets.)

Or, take Obamacare. Conservatives rarely make the argument, which many seem to believe, that the program was essentially a pander to key Democratic constituencies, like the sick, the poor, and single women. Now that the program is working beyond expectations, they even shy away from criticizing the sort of risk-pooling that allows the previously uninsured to obtain insurance. Instead, they obsess over any indication that the law was passed through trickery. (See here for why that’s utter nonsense.)

Politically, it’s easy to understand why Republicans argue at the level of methodology, rather than owning up to their underlying beliefs. Saying you think too many black people vote, or that Democrats give too much free stuff to poor people, really isn’t the way to win elections these days. Just ask Mitt Romney, one of the few national politicians who didn’t grasp the need to conceal his actual views on these questions.

But, of course, we all want to believe that we’re acting in good faith. And so the obsession with proceduralism runs much deeper than crass political self-interest.

Take, for instance, the Tea Party’s obsession with the Constitution, which, according to its idiosyncratic reading, prohibits everything from the direct election of senators to the progressive income tax to federal spending on highways. It’s not that Tea Partier’s hate redistribution per se (though they do). It’s that, in their telling, the rules of the game simply forbid it. “I will not vote for a single bill that I can’t justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution,” the Tea Partier Mike Lee announced during his successful Senate campaign. (For that matter, even latter-day defenders of the Confederacy tend to favor procedural argumentsstates' rights!over substantive oneslike, yay slavery!).

What does all this have to do with immigration? Well, it turns out to be the one issue on which the right is least capable of maintaining the pretense that its objections are procedural rather than born of some deeper, darker suspicions.

Intellectually, of course, conservatives understand the importance of sticking to procedural objections even here. They can read polls as well as the rest of us. And the polls say that while Americans overwhelmingly favor the substance of Obama’s preferred immigration reforms, they also oppose enacting the reform by way of executive fiat.

No surprise then that the conservative message machine has gone on at length about the “constitutional crisis” the president is instigating. The right has compared Obama to a monarch (see here and here), a Latin American caudillo, even a conspirator against the Roman Republic. (Ever melodrama much?) The rhetoric gets a little thick. But if you boil it down, the critique is mostly about Obama’s usurpation of power and contempt for democratic norms, not the substance of his policy change. Some Republicans no doubt believe it.

And yet, try as they might to stick to the script, there’s something about dark-skinned foreigners that sends the conservative id into overdrive. Most famously, there’s Iowa Congressman Steve King’s observation last year that for every child brought into the country illegally “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

While King tends to be especially vivid in his lunacy, he’s no outlier. Just yesterday departing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann opined that “the social cost [of Obama’s order] will be profound on the U.S. taxpayermillions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.” (Not to worry, GOP leadershipKing and Bachmann are graciously slinking off stage. They’re traveling to the Mexican border today to inspect the problem first-hand.)

The problem with drawing these crazy relatives down from the attic isn’t that just that it exposes the GOP’s soothing proceduralism as a sham when it comes to immigration reform. It’s that it exposes the GOP’s proceduralism as a sham more broadly. It simply defies logic to believe that Mexicans (and maybe Muslims, the other minority group Bachmann et al feel comfortable hounding) are the only group of non-white or non-affluent Americans the GOP’s conservative wing disdains. And the longer the immigration debate goes on, the more damage will be done to that fiction.

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