In an appearance in Myanmar alongside famed human rights activist and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Barack Obama assured reporters that he will not abandon the two deeply unpopular policies he has determined should define his last two years in office: Reforming the nation’s immigration system via executive action and opposing the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“I gave the House over a year to go ahead and at least give a vote to the Senate bill. They failed to do so and I indicated to Speaker Boehner several months ago that if, in fact, Congress failed to act, I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better, and that’s going to happen,” Obama said, previewing n executive action which is expected to create legal status for a reported 5 million illegal immigrants.
In what ABC News characterized as some of his “strongest language yet,” Obama also scoffed at the notion that the Keystone pipeline was a “massive jobs bill for the United States.”
“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else,” Obama insisted. “It doesn’t have an impact on US gas prices.”
Obama, we are led to believe, is clinging to these positions for their political benefits. Creating legal status for millions of illegal immigrants, among whom labor force participation rates are already competitive, is not going to have an appreciable effect on the nation’s economy. An executive order is supposedly designed to energize the Democratic base and their loyal coalition of minority voters.
Obama’s opposition to Keystone is similarly incoherent. The construction of a major artery across the continent is not worth the time because it might not have an appreciable effect on gas prices, which are already on the decline? Rubbish. Obama’s recalcitrance is a gift to the environmental left.
The president better hope that there is a Bakken formation of Democrats hiding a strategic reserve of yet-undiscovered liberal voters out there somewhere, because his current positions are deeply unpopular with just about everyone else.
A September Rasmussen Reports survey found 62 percent of the public opposes granting amnesty to illegal immigrants without seeking Congressional approval. Another 55 percent in that survey support taking the White House to court if he goes through with an executive order on immigration. A September IBD/TIPP poll found 73 percent support immigration reform, but only 22 percent of respondents believe Obama should enact reforms without the consent of Congress. Even some in the Democratic Party’s coalition of the ascendant is not sold on Obama’s proposed executive action. “Fully 80% of those age 18 to 24 want him to work with Congress on reform,” the poll’s release read.
In the 2014 exit polls, certainly a GOP-heavy sample, 57 percent believe illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a pathway to legal status. Going around Congress, however, only seems likely to backfire on the president.
“It’s going to come across as an illegitimate and crassly political move by a desperate president,” the accomplished GOP pollster Whit Ayres told MSNBC in 2013 of a prospective executive action. “This is a really, really bad move.” President Barack Obama lost the initiative on immigration to Republicans over the summer amid a massive surge of immigrates across the southern border. According to a Politico survey from early September, 64 percent of voters disapprove of the president’s handling of immigration issues. Those same respondents trusted the GOP more to handle the issue by 3 points over the president.
Similarly, the majority of respondents in a November Pew Research Center poll, 59 percent, back the construction of the Keystone pipeline. That is only the latest survey to confirm his project’s popularity. “Poll after poll has shown support for Keystone is somewhere between very strong and overwhelming,” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake noted. “And as another recent Pew poll showed, it’s not just Republicans and independents driving support for the project. In fact, basically the only group that opposes it is the most liberal of Democrats.”
The only reason that Obama’s hand might be forced on Keystone, in fact, is the result of a revolt within his own party. Responding to the will of the voters, four Democratic senators took to the floor to demand their party’s leadership stop blocking that project. The administration is, however, in the midst of attempting to create a virtue out of ignoring the public’s verdict altogether.
“We need to deliver for the folks who didn’t feel any reason to engage in the process,” a White House official told Washington Post reporters on Thursday. “We have to have policy positions, or articulate our policy positions, that show to this emerging electorate — young people, Latinos, single women — that the Democratic Party is fundamentally better for them than the Republican Party. And it’s not just slightly better, it’s a lot better.”
The president is governing now for those Americans who didn’t vote. Now that’s representative democracy in action.
It’s also one hell of a gamble on the president’s part. While it is possible that those voters who did not turn out in 2014 may show up at the polls to back Democrats in 2016, it is a surefire certainty that those voters who turned out across the country to deliver the GOP their biggest majorities in 90 years are not going away. Obama’s pursuing deeply unpopular policy prescriptions in order to revive the Democratic Party’s base even at the expense of the party’s broader appeal, and he expects a thank you.