I’ve been trying to game this out since last night but can’t find an obvious answer. For the past six months, there’s been a sword hanging over the House GOP’s head on immigration. Amnesty fans have put intense pressure on Obama to act within his executive authority to further relax U.S. immigration law, as that’s the only way, they claim, he can shed himself of the phony but politically useful label of “deporter-in-chief.” So O’s going to appease them. At some point this summer, he’s promised them, he’ll issue an executive order that does … something. What, precisely, is unclear. He’s not going to issue a mass moratorium on deportations, as that would be too risky for Democrats facing voters in November, but he’s got to prove his good faith or else Democratic amnesty boosters might start folding their wallets and boycotting GOTV efforts this fall. Cleverly, though, O’s been using the prospect of that executive order as a spur to get House Republicans to pass something first. “If you don’t pander to Latino voters by enacting a legalization bill,” the White House has tacitly warned them, “Obama will pander to them himself by issuing a stay of some deportations. And then the GOP will be in an even deeper hole with Latinos than it already is.” In theory, the only reason he hasn’t issued the order yet is because he’s giving Boehner and company some extra time to act. Chuck Schumer, in fact, said explicitly a few weeks ago that Republicans have until the August recess. If they haven’t passed a bill by then, Obama’s going to move.
My question is, what’s left of that timeline now that Cantor’s been cashiered? The whole point of waiting until August was that Democrats thought there was a slim chance Boehner would bite the bullet and bring something to the floor this summer. No one thinks he’ll do that now, so there’s no longer any reason to wait. Obama could march into the White House briefing room this afternoon, declare that it’s now painfully clear that the Speaker is a hostage of the tea-party terrorists who have taken over the GOP, and therefore nothing will pass this summer. As such, his executive order will issue immediately. Moving quickly would a nice bit of showmanship for Latino voters in contrasting bold Democratic action in favor of illegals with bold Republican action against amnesty in Cantor’s district last night. But … Obama doesn’t dare do that, does he? Last night’s earthquake in VA-7 was so huge, I wonder if even some congressional Democrats are worried about aftershocks. They’re not going to lose any primaries over backing immigration reform, but it’s hard to say what sort of spark in GOP turnout this fall a bold unilateral move from Obama might strike. And if I’m right that Cantor ended up drowning in all the news lately about young illegals flowing past the Texas border, right now would be an especially risky moment for O to act. He needs to wait, at least, until that situation is under control before relaxing the deportation rules. If he doesn’t and illegals keep coming, it’ll be easy for the GOP to blame his policies, going back to his de facto “DACA” amnesty for DREAMers in 2012, for igniting a new explosion in illegal immigration. He’s got to lie low for a while after a 10.0 political temblor.
He can’t get away with postponing the executive order until next year, though. He’s taken lots of flak from immigration activists about twiddling his thumbs while Boehner tries to work up the nerve to float a bill. Some of them are treating his willingness to act as a litmus test of how sincerely he cares about the issue. And who can blame them, really? In his first term, when he had filibuster-proof Democratic majorities in Congress, he passed a giant stimulus and a landmark health-care reform bill and … nothing on amnesty. Since then, he’s taken dubious executive action on all sorts of policies — ObamaCare implementation, foreign interventions, trading away terrorists for an accused deserter without so much as giving Congress a heads up. Again, nothing on amnesty. He did issue that DACA order two years ago, but that occurred before all the movement in Congress in 2013-14 on immigration. He’s done next to nothing for liberal amnesty fans since then. If he runs away in terror at the sight of Cantor getting blown out of the water, some of them might boycott the midterms, and suddenly the GOP’s looking at an even bigger night than everyone expects. He’s got to act.
So, when? When is the least damaging moment politically for Obama to make this now inevitable move? My best guess is that he’s going to stick to the original timeline of doing it during the August recess. If he does it later than that, it increases the odds that this’ll matter to America’s midterm vote. If he does it before then, he’s got the optics problem of young illegals surging into Texas just as the order’s being issued plus he eliminates any remaining chance (which is, admittedly, remote) that Boehner will decide this month that he wants to retire anyway and therefore fully intends to pass an amnesty bill in July with mostly Democratic support. But maybe I’m missing something. Is O better off doing this sooner or later?