“Immigration reform is a moral imperative, and so it’s worth seeking greater understanding from our faith,” President Barack Obama said at a 2011 prayer breakfast.
Flash forward to 2014 when, after months of hectoring Republicans in the House to pass an immigration reform package approved by the U.S. Senate, Obama warned that he had finally come to the conclusion that he would have no choice but to act on this “moral imperative” on his own.
Finally, following weeks of anticipation, Obama announced that he had come to a decision… to do nothing at all.
The president folded in the face of requests from vulnerable and moderate Democrats who asked him to forego an executive order extending legal status to millions of illegal residents. “[T]he flagging support among senators is particularly worrisome to the White House, which will be reluctant to make such a controversial move without the strong backing of congressional Democrats,” Politico reported over the weekend.
“So President Obama says he still plans to unilaterally rewrite immigration law—but not until after the election so he can spare Democrats in Congress from the wrath of voters for doing so,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board remarked. “And he wonders why Americans are cynical about politics?”
What changed for the president? Obama told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he does not believe the American public have been properly educated about the reasons for an executive action. “I want to spend some time, even as we’re getting all our ducks in a row for the executive action, I also want to make sure that the public understands why we’re doing this, why it’s the right thing for the American people, why it’s the right thing for the American economy,” he said. Obama added that he wants to make sure the action he takes is “sustainable,” as though presidential order has some form of half-life that begins to deplete the minute it is signed into existence.
Above all, Obama and his administration objected to the notion that they had postponed a sweeping immigration executive order due to political concerns – a claim which even his most liberal pro-reform supporters have made clear they do not believe. In spite of continued denials, the White House press secretary made it perfectly clear that Obama prioritized politics over what he once considered a matter of morality.
“Injecting this issue into the current political environment would be really bad for the issue,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday.
In fact, Earnest characterized the president’s decision as an act of courage. He noted that the White House anticipated criticism over this move and they are stoically enduring it for the good of the nation. “The president is willing to take on that criticism so that we can insure that the executive action that the president takes is sustainable, that it’s enduring and that we continue to have public support for it,” the press secretary said.
Here, Earnest essentially conceded that the current adverse political conditions Democrats are facing is forcing Obama to back off his executive order, but he went on to be even more explicit.
When asked what circumstances would limit Obama’s freedom of action to pursue an executive order on immigration reform after the midterms, Earnest replied that “What would change is that we’ll be past it.”
“I don’t think any of the Republican candidates right now are contemplating a six-figure ad buy on the third week in November,” he said. “If they are, I hope they’ll spend their money that way, but they’re not going to.”
Quick translation: Republicans might campaign against Democrats if Obama enacts an executive order.
“The tone and heightened – heightened nature of the debate will just be different,” Earnest added, noting that the GOP will be in “less of a position to distort the facts” after the election had passed.
If that’s not cynical, I don’t know what is.
Update (AP): Via the Corner, here’s Earnest’s exchange with Major Garrett.