Fans of immigration reform have been nudging Obama for months to consider some sort of legalization via executive order, if only to show Congress that there’s no off-ramp on the road to amnesty this time. Some of his pro-reform congressional allies like Marco Rubio have been happy to trumpet the point themselves. Now, with the fall calendar filling up with other business and House immigration players having accomplished zippo during the August recess, this may move from saber-rattling to something reform proponents want serious action on. They’re nervous that the momentum for reform is gone, and not without reason.

Does President Bumblefark dare go nuclear with a unilateral amnesty?

“If Congress doesn’t move, the president has a duty to act,” said Ana Avendano, director of immigration and community action at the AFL-CIO. “Just because the Republicans have buried their heads in the sand doesn’t mean that immigrant communities aren’t feeling the sting of constant deportations.”…

I think that’s actually what Obama wants to do. I think he wants Congress not to pass something so he can do it on his own and he can take credit for it,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said in an interview. “He needs to be very careful, though, because he continues to flout the law, and he continues to do things that are beyond his authority. And at some point, Congress is going to have enough.”…

That’s not stopping immigrant advocates from gaming out scenarios the administration could pursue, such as granting legal status to targeted groups of immigrants, perhaps to people who have been in the country for a long time or whose children are U.S. citizens.

“It’s very clear that from advocates’ perspective, if legislation fails, we definitely will need to start pressuring the administration to act,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

If Obama wanted the credit for amnesty all to himself, he would have done this already. In that sense, it’s just like Syria: The One’s perfectly happy to act unilaterally, with no legal justification whatsoever, on war in Libya or suspending ObamaCare’s employer mandate if he thinks it’s a net gain (or at least a push) for him politically. He went to Congress on Syria because he didn’t want to be out on the limb of ordering an unpopular, risky attack all alone. Same here. If amnesty by executive fiat was all upside, he’d do it in a second, legal or not. But it’s not all upside; there’s a risk of a nasty backlash across various demographics, including blue-collar voters and independents, that could cripple Democrats in the midterms. I bet he’s especially nervous about that after seeing those two gun-grabbing state senators in Colorado get smoked in the recalls this week. If you’re going to press a hot button, even one that polls in your favor generally, prepare for unpredictably fierce opposition at the polls. Democrats have a lot to worry about already next November; a massive presidential power grab in favor of normalizing illegals while citizens struggle with the new reality of part-time work in post-ObamaCare America is … unhelpful, especially in light of those Gallup numbers from earlier this afternoon.

So yeah, O wants congressional Republicans on the hook with him for this, partly for fear of a backlash to amnesty and partly in case, as everyone expects, the border security “improvements” go nowhere and the public start noticing. Does his calculus change, though, in 2015 or 2016, ahead of a presidential election? Democrats will be warmer to the idea two years from now because they know there’ll be many more Latinos at the polls for a presidential vote than there’ll be for the midterms. The wider public will be distracted with the primaries and the various other policy issues around which the general election is coalescing. That’s one of the reasons Obama’s de facto amnesty for DREAMers last year went down relatively smoothly with the electorate — it’s not only that DREAMers are a particularly sympathetic class of illegals, it’s that voters had a ton on their plate to consider and a news cycle in hyperdrive to change the subject because of the presidential race. If you’re going to do something insanely bold like legalize illegals with an executive order, you’d want to do your best to hide it in a crowd of other issues. And, just as naturally, you wouldn’t want to do it at a moment when both parties think you look like a clown who’s getting rolled by the president of Russia and a tinpot Arab dictator every day of the week. This is a “strong horse” political play, not a “horse that keeps running headfirst into walls” one.

This is something to worry about as we get closer to 2016 and as the lame duck gets lamer, with progressively less to lose by doing it. Which is why I expect, if the GOP takes back the Senate next year, they’ll try to cut him off at the pass in 2015 by pushing immigration reform on their terms, when they have the numbers in Congress to apply extra pressure to O. Will they produce something tougher than the Gang of Eight did in the Senate? No way to know yet, but I know how I’m betting. Exit question: When do we start hearing from Republicans what the penalties for O will be if he does something unilateral? I can understand not wanting to broach the subject at all in the interest of not fueling public awareness of this as a legit option, but Rubio and Labrador have broached it. If you’re going to bring it up, at least do a little saber-rattling in response.