And away we go:
Looking casual in WH Facebook video, Pres Obama announces he’ll unveil immigration reform actions tomorrow at 8pm/ET. pic.twitter.com/DcNnT7boGM
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) November 19, 2014
It’s officially happening, guys. Most — but not all — Democrats are preemptively spinning the president’s coming amnesty decree, arguing that such a move enjoys broad precedent. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, they say, except for the ferocity of Republicans’ reflexive opposition. Reagan and Bush did the same thing, but nobody complained back then! This is nonsense. Ross Douthat’s excellent column over the weekend offered a compact description of three core distinctions: “None of those moves even approached this plan’s scale, none attempted to transform a major public policy debate, and none were deployed as blackmail against a Congress unwilling to work the president’s will.” He also noted that the targeted executive orders on immigration cited by liberals impacted discrete populations, for clearly-defined reasons. Its beneficiaries were “modest, clearly defined populations facing some obvious impediment (war, persecution, natural disaster) to returning home.” Mark Krikorian expands on Douthat’s point, exploding several myths being deployed by the Left in advance of Obama’s action. Krikorian’s conclusion:
Both Reagan’s and Bush’s moves were cleanup measures for the implementation of the once-in-history amnesty that was passed by Congress. In other words, it was a coda, a tying up of loose ends, for something that Congress had actually enacted, and thus arguably a legitimate part of executing the law — which is, after all, the function of the executive. Obama’s threatened move, on the other hand, is directly contrary to Congress’s decision not to pass an amnesty…Whatever their merits, the Reagan and Bush measures were modest attempts at faithfully executing legislation duly enacted by Congress. Obama’s planned amnesty decree is Caesarism, pure and simple. “Precedent” isn’t the right word for the Obama crowd’s invocation of Reagan. The right word is “pretext.”
He also notes that President George H.W. Bush’s executive amnesty measure, retroactively codified and slightly expanded by Congress, ended up impacting fewer than 150,000 people — far fewer than the “up to 1.5 million” figure being tossed about. Obama’s move will reportedly apply to five million adults who entered the US illegally, indefinitely suspending the threat of deportation, and reportedly granting legal work papers. In many of my writings on this subject, I’ve highlighted two Barack Obama quotes; one pertaining to expansive executive power generally, and the other, a frank 2012 assessment of his power to reshape immigration law by himself:
Obama may have undermined his case because he has insisted time and again that he’s the president, not the king, and “can’t just make the laws up by myself.” In a 2012 interview with Telemundo, Obama defended his decision to defer deportations for children but said he couldn’t go any bigger. “If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option,” he said then.
He made that last statement after instituting his DREAM Act-style policy for a subset of children who were brought to America illegally at a young age, which was far less politically combustible than today’s impending “broadening,” which he bluntly stated would be “very difficult to defend legally.” That was two years ago. Today? Damn the legality, full speed ahead. John Boehner’s office has published a list of 22 times Obama flatly stated that he cannot impose his will on immigration unilaterally, often within the context of dealing with frustrated immigration activists. Several jarring examples from Boehner’s roster:
“America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the President, am obligated to enforce the law. I don’t have a choice about that. That’s part of my job. But I can advocate for changes in the law so that we have a country that is both respectful of the law but also continues to be a great nation of immigrants. … With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed …. [W]e’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” (3/28/11)
“I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books …. Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you. Not just on immigration reform. But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.” (7/25/11)
“We are a nation of immigrants. … But we’re also a nation of laws. So what I’ve said is, we need to fix a broken immigration system. And I’ve done everything that I can on my own[.]” (10/16/12)
“I am the Champion-in-Chief of comprehensive immigration reform. But what I’ve said in the past remains true, which is until Congress passes a new law, then I am constrained in terms of what I am able to do. What I’ve done is to use my prosecutorial discretion, because you can’t enforce the laws across the board for 11 or 12 million people, there aren’t the resources there. What we’ve said is focus on folks who are engaged in criminal activity, focus on people who are engaged in gang activity. Do not focus on young people, who we’re calling DREAMers …. That already stretched my administrative capacity very far. But I was confident that that was the right thing to do. But at a certain point the reason that these deportations are taking place is, Congress said, ‘you have to enforce these laws.’ They fund the hiring of officials at the department that’s charged with enforcing. And I cannot ignore those laws any more than I could ignore, you know, any of the other laws that are on the books. (3/6/14)
The president is now claiming these myriad statements were merely rejections of the argument that he can single-handedly create entire laws out of whole cloth by “duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.” That’s flat-out untrue, says Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, who awards Obama a rare “upside-down Pinocchio” for his “royal flip-flop:”
It’s clear from the interviews that the president was not being asked about executive orders that would have provided comprehensive immigration reform, but about specific actions that ended deportations of a subset of illegal immigrants—precisely the type of action he will shortly unveil. Previously he said that was not possible, using evocative language that he is not a “king” or “the emperor.” Apparently he’s changed his mind.
Which is why Jonathan Karl’s “emperor” question was spot on. I’ll leave you with a helpful lecture from our constitutional-scholar-in-chief, disabusing his critics of the preposterous notion that he wields the legitimate power to “just suspend deportation through executive order” for millions of people:
That (correct) understanding of the law no longer applies, and Univision’s Jorge Ramos is delighted to explain why:
It’ll be difficult for Republicans to reject executive action on immigration and not to be seen as anti-immigrant and anti-Latino.
— JORGE RAMOS (@jorgeramosnews) November 16, 2014