Why Obama may punt on executive action on immigration, even after the election

Such a move would, of course, be incredibly disappointing to Latino voters and immigration activists, and with the 2016 election approaching soon after the midterms, it seems inconceivable, at first glance, that the president would throw this group of voters completely under the bus after having dangled the promise of some kind of action in front of them for the better part of a year. If nothing else, such a move would risk damaging Democratic Party fortunes going forward – not so much because these voters would suddenly switch loyalty to the GOP, but because they would be likely to just stay home on Election Day and become less active in campaigns. This would do as much harm to the party’s fortunes as voting for the opposing party, if not more. Looking at this purely from the perspective of partisan politics, then, it seems inconceivable that the president would do something that would clearly be seen as a slap in the face to an important and growing constituency, and an important part of the Democratic coalition.

That being said, I believe that Yglesias is on to something when he argues that a Republican victory in November is likely to spook the president into either scaling back the executive action that was planned to make it much more modest than it might otherwise have been, or to put it off altogether in favor of another push for immigration reform in the 114th Congress, which will likely not go anywhere. As he notes, in the context of a Congress fully controlled by Republicans, there will be tremendous pressure to delay action in order to get things like budgeting and other tasks needed to keep the government functioning. Even some Democrats are likely to be less than enthusiastic about the idea given the electoral price they could pay in the future. Finally, there’s the simple fact that President Obama has backed down on this issue in the past, and that a plausible case can be made that immigration reform is not important enough an issue to tie up the federal budget or other operations of government.

So, if the GOP does win the Senate, don’t be too surprised if we don’t see any executive action at all or, if we do, that it is substantially more modest than previously hinted at.