Is Obama too far right on immigration for Democrats?
posted at 8:41 am on August 7, 2014 by Noah Rothman
That assertion may strike you as particularly unfounded, especially considering that several news outlets have reported that the White House is considering ways in which it can extend legal status to millions of illegal immigrants by executive order alone and without congressional authorization. But a few experienced Democratic political actors are sending signals that the liberal base voter may think President Barack Obama is too accommodating with Republicans when it comes to immigration issues.
Recently, Vice President Joe Biden offered his thoughts on the border crisis and praised the tenacity of those making the trek north. He commended the spirit of those young migrants crossing the border illegally after entrusting their lives to human traffickers. “In large part, he’s right,” CNN’s John King noted. “It takes a lot of courage to give up your life, wherever you live, to make that journey.”
CNN reporter Peter Hamby offered a fascinating observation – Biden may have been, at least in part, positioning himself within the 2016 field as slightly to the left of the president on immigration issues.
“Biden is a great lagging indicator of the zeitgeist in the Democratic Party right now,” Hamby said. He noted Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley only adopted a softer position on the border crisis in response to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsing deportations. “The Democratic base was with O’Malley,” Hamby noted.
It is worth recalling that the White House was largely supportive of a preliminary plan to address the border crisis which included amending a 2008 anti-human trafficking law until strong push back from Democrats in the House forced them to abandon that position.
“Is the only immigration bill we’re going to have one that hurts children?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on the 16th. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and others lobbied the president personally to rethink his position on the border crisis. In response, the president reportedly promised him that any measure he takes to halt the influx of Central American migrants would be offset by reduced deportations of immigrant families already living in the United States.
Is Biden a “lagging indicator,” as Hamby said, of where the Democratic Party wants to go on immigration? It’s possible.
If, however, Obama goes through with executive action on immigration, the backlash will be significant enough to likely cost Democrats a few otherwise winnable seats in 2014. That will force even the most ideologically committed of liberal politicians to rethink their position on the matter of immigration.
If the president does not move on an executive action to provide undocumented migrants with work permits, Hamby is probably correct. Clinton has a wide open left flank moving into the 2016 primary season, and the candidate best positioned to attack her as insufficiently liberal will be the candidate who consolidates the anti-Hillary Democratic vote. Immigration is just one of a handful of issues that could provide one of Clinton’s challengers with an advantage.