Thursday, November 20, 2014

Political Calculus

The president will address the nation tonight where he is expected to announce his plan to implement immigration reform by means of the executive powers granted him under the constitution. The president has on numerous occasions promised to take this action if congress failed to act. Clearly frustrated by the lack of any movement on the Hill toward reform; the president has finally chosen to act alone.

As expected, news of the president’s intentions brought a hair on fire response from the right. Mitch McConnell said that the president’s actions would “poison the well” for any hope of future compromise. Speaker Boehner warned that if the president “continued to play with fire he might find himself getting burned.” Governor Rick Perry, himself a defendant in a suit alleging his abuse of power, announced that the state of Texas would sue the president in like kind. Various members of the conservative caucus responded with threats of impeachment, defunding the president’s agenda and a government shutdown.

Certainly the president and his staff have made the political calculus that in spite of these threats it was in the country’s best interest to move forward at this time. Those who follow politics are probably asking: “Why now?” Perhaps these are some of the considerations bandied about the West Wing.

- Recent polls show that 52% of the people oppose the use of executive action to implement immigration reform. True but 57% of those polled believe that immigration reform is the right thing to do. The president campaigned on this issue and won…twice. After promising for the better part of six years to enact reform, the White House has apparently decided that it could not back down again.

- Republicans say that the president is ignoring the will of the people. Fresh off a resounding victory in the mid-terms they are quick to point out that “elections matter.” The White House no doubt agrees. But while the Republicans were winning local elections in gerrymandered districts the president was winning two general elections for the presidency. The same Republicans who are now proclaiming their recent victory as a mandate are the same ones who scoffed at such talk on the part of Democrats after the president thumped both McCain and Romney in the generals.

- After losing control of both the House and Senate the people expect the president to be more conciliatory and accepting of the Republican agenda. To enact reform would be taking a more combative stance that might appear off putting to voters. For six years the president has been hammered by his base for not being tough enough in fighting for his agenda. This stems from the president’s deep seeded dislike for back room politics. But this president is very competitive. He hates losing. Tired of dealing with the obstructionist tactics of the right the president finally decided to fight for what he believes in.

- Republicans are threatening impeachment, defund the president’s agenda and shut down the government. The White House no doubt welcomes these threats. In fact it would not be beyond the pale to think that the White House is baiting Republicans to act on their rhetoric. Let Republicans follow through on these threats and see how that plays in the eyes of the voters; particularly blacks, Latino and Asian voters in 2016.

- Republicans say that the president should defer this executive action for six months to allow the newly elected Republican congress time to act. One a year ago Speaker Boehner asked the president to give him six months to get his caucus to pass a reform bill. It has been a year and Boehner has yet to deliver. Why should the White House believe that anything will change when the new Republican caucus takes office?

-McConnell says that the president’s executive actions will poison the well for any hope of future compromise. The White House no doubt believes that McConnell’s words are just empty rhetoric. Republicans campaigned on tearing down the president’s agenda not finding a collaborative way to move it forward.

- Republicans vow that if the president follows through with his plans they will sue and take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court. The White House calculates that this is probably true. But in all likelihood the president will be back home in Chicago by the time the Roberts Court rules. And even if the Court rules against him he will have fulfilled his promise to pass reform. Let the Court and the Republicans who brought the suit explain to millions of immigrants how they are being stripped of their freedom and sent home.

The president has made the political calculus that the time to move forward on immigration reform is now. The next few months will tell us if his calculations were correct.

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