The headlines I’ve seen this morning about this exchange claim that Bush said he wouldn’t rescind Obama’s executive action “right away,” which is sort of true. What Jeb said is that he’d rescind the amnesty as part of a deal with Congress on immigration. That won’t happen on day one of his presidency, so yeah, technically O’s order would remain intact for at least a few months while President Bush works out the details of the new bill with the House and Senate. But focusing on the timing misses the point of what Jeb’s implying: If Republicans in Congress refuse to go along with his plan for a new comprehensive bill, Bush 45 will presumably … keep Obama’s executive amnesty in place indefinitely. The price of getting it rescinded is to give the president what he wants, at least to some degree, on immigration. That’s the same type of Hobson’s-choice extortion that Obama’s been engaged in for most of his second term. Congress can either pass what the White House demands or the White House will simply pass it for them. Now here’s Jeb suggesting he’ll use O’s actions as leverage against the legislature too. Even worse, when Megyn Kelly raises the possibility that Obama’s amnesty will be struck down in federal court, Jeb says he thinks the legal challenge will succeed. Does that mean he thinks O’s order is illegal? If so, why on earth isn’t he promising to undo it on day one as president, no questions asked, as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have promised to do?
If you’re a Jeb fan but not as gung ho for amnesty as he is (are there any Jeb fans like that?), you can reassure yourself here in three unsatisfying ways. First reassurance: Any other Republican president will end up doing the same thing, no matter what Cruz and Paul are saying now to impress conservatives. There’s simply no way a new GOP president is going to kiss off Latino voters five minutes after his inauguration by flushing Obama’s executive amnesties down the toilet. The only realistic option here is rescind and replace. Marco Rubio knows that. So does Jeb. So should you. Second reassurance: Maybe Jeb’s plan for a comprehensive bill will end up being more conservative than Obama’s executive amnesty, in which case “rescind and replace” isn’t necessarily a bad deal. Bush has said repeatedly (including in this clip) that we need to accept DREAMers as Americans, but maybe their parents are a different story. DACA, Obama’s 2012 amnesty, legalized DREAMers themselves; DAPA, his mega-amnesty last November, legalized their moms and dads. Maybe Bush 45 would insist on including the former in a congressional bill while rejecting the latter, in which case his plan would end up being far more modest than O’s. Then again, realistically, what are the odds of that? If Jeb wanted to draw that line, he could have drawn it right here. But he didn’t because he knows it would cost him Latino votes. What are the odds, then, that he’d betray Latinos by rescinding DAPA summarily once he’s president? Any Jeb plan on legalization will overlap significantly with Obama’s legalization scheme. The politics of this will see to that.
The third and most important reassurance: Jeb doesn’t need to worry what he’ll do about Obama’s amnesty if congressional Republicans refuse to pass his bill because they will, almost certainly, pass whatever he demands of them. The virtue of having a Republican ally on immigration in the White House for Boehner and McConnell is that they can all jump off the political cliff together. If a Bush-written comprehensive plan passes the House and Senate, right-wing anger will be split between the executive and legislature; Boehner and McConnell can feel comfortable-ish knowing that conservatives will howl about the agonies of another Bush presidency and Bush can feel comfortable knowing that they’ll howl about Boehner and McConnell selling them out on a key plank yet again. Diffusion of responsibility makes amnesty more tolerable, especially if Jeb tries to get it done right away; Republicans in Congress will be especially wary of undermining a new leader from their party at the very start of his presidency. And I’m sure they’d pair the big immigration sellout with some more conservative policy measure elsewhere, like tax reform, to give righties a reason to cheer. It’s unlikely, then, that Republicans in Congress will stop this and put Jeb in a position of protecting Obama’s amnesty for long.
Exit question: What if Senate Democrats, whether in the majority or minority, decide to block a Republican comprehensive bill? If President Jeb refuses to rescind an Obama amnesty until there’s a new law in place, and if Obama’s amnesty already gives Democrats most of what they want without any of that icky security stuff, then they have every incentive to block Republicans on immigration reform on grounds that their plan is too “severe” or whatever. What does Bush 45 do with Obama’s amnesty then?