Obama: I'm not the Deporter in Chief because I only just discovered my awesome powers, or something

Barack Obama’s attempt to pander to Latino voters with his executive amnesty program hit a very large speed bump in Nashville. Obama met with reporters from Spanish-language outlets to leverage the popularity of his action with their audiences, perhaps expecting a bit of a victory lap. Instead, Obama got blindsided by Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, who asked Obama why he spent five-plus years deporting two million people if he had the authority to stop it all along. The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson notes that the accusation of being the “Deporter In Chief” threw Obama off stride when it comes at the 1:30 mark in this video:

Ramos: But if you, as you’re saying, you always had the legal authority to stop deportations, then why did you deport two million people? For six years you did it. You destroyed many families. They called you the “deporter-in-chief.”

Obama: Listen … Jorge .. we’re not … listen Jorge … you called me “deporter-in-chief.”

Ramos: It was Janet Murgia of La Raza. … You could have stopped deportations. That’s the whole idea.

Obama: That is not true.

Well, sure it is — if you buy the argument that Obama has used to announce his discretionary authority. He’s not claiming that Congress gave him any authority to suspend deportations of illegal immigrants. He’s arguing the exact opposite — that Congressional inaction on bad law forced him to take unilateral action not just to stop deportations but also to issue work permits that violate statutory requirements for residency. The issue isn’t that Obama’s authority changed, but that it hasn’t changed, and he’s tired of waiting for Congress to act. In fact, Obama spent the first ninety seconds of this clip arguing that the power has been his all along, but that he waited to use it.

That makes Ramos’ point all the more valid. If the deportations were wrong, why did Obama not just continue them but (arguably) increase them? Why did Obama wait until after three elections on his watch to act? Obama can’t have it both ways. Either he’s acting outside his authority now but doing so because he thinks he can get away with it politically after the last election he has to withstand, or Obama has had the authority all along but let 2 million people get unjustly deported because he was too pusillanimous to act. Ramos wants to know which it is, and the only response Obama has is to scold Ramos for favoring “easy solutions” … which is exactly how Obama sold his action to the American people.

Obama has to be disappointed to be challenged like that from a reporter he assumed would fawn all over him. He may also be disappointed in the popularity of his actions. Let’s take a second look at that Gallup poll, which AP covered earlier. Only a bare majority of native-born Hispanics support his actions, and it gets double-digit disapproval overall:

Americans overall say they disapprove (51%) rather than approve of (41%) the executive actions President Barack Obama plans to take to deal with undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. However, Hispanics, U.S. immigrants and blacks approve of the actions by wide margins, whereas whites are oppose them. …

The Gallup Daily tracking question did not address the specifics of the actions, but rather asked Americans for their views on the “executive actions President Obama plans to take dealing with certain categories of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.” Recent polls other organizations have conducted since Obama’s speech, as well as past polls by Gallup, show Americans favor plans to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. if they meet certain requirements, rather than deporting them. Thus, opposition to Obama’s policy may have as much to do with his use of the executive order rather than the legislative process, or simply political opposition to Obama and his agenda more generally, as to the specifics of what he is proposing.

Don’t read too much into the race demos. Among US-born Hispanics, Obama’s executive action only gets a 51/42 approval level. The real point of deflection is birth status, with 75% of non-native Hispanics and 69% of immigrants overall approving of the action. It also gets a 68/24 approval among black voters, which seems substantial if one forgets that this is a demo that usually offers monolithic support for Obama’s policies (same-sex marriage is another anomaly).

Even the political demos look poor for Obama. Democrats only back the unilateral executive action policy 70/24, showing some discomfort among Obama’s own rank and file for the precedent he’s setting. Among independents, it gets only a 38/53. Obama has climbed out on a limb without too much of a safety net below him, and inadvertently exposed himself to more criticism than he anticipated. He may need to start asking the Republican-controlled Congress for a rescue before he ever gets to issue a single work permit at this rate.

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