It’s time for another showdown in the country's capital. Republicans won the Senate and full control of Congress in the midterm elections.. The president is reportedly about to counter with executive action on immigration reform, though nobody knows how far he’ll go.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos that the White House hasn’t made a final decision, but the president is ready to make good on his promise to act on behalf of the nation’s undocumented immigrants in the absence of a new law before the end of the year.
“The president is disappointed that this legislative solution won’t be achieved, but the president is looking forward to taking executive action on his own, to solve as many of these problems as he can,” Earnest said.
Few things will rile Republicans more than unilateral White House action on such a contentious issue, especially coming off of their midterm gains. Earnest acknowledged the White House’s displeasure with the election results while describing them as a call for more movement in Washington.
“[Voters] want their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. to get some results, and we haven’t seen a lot of results over the last two years in the United States Congress in particular,” Earnest said.
It’s a fine line given the departing Democratic Senate majority, but the White House wants to cast Republicans - who have internal splits on this issue - as the main reason for legislative delays and justify executive action now that they’ve won more power. Leading Republicans caution that such a confrontation would be playing with fire.
“If we get sidetracked with old ideological fights and holding each other accountable for long-held differences, we’re not going to make much progress,” Earnest said when asked about Senator Mitch McConnell’s warning that immigration executive action is “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
Republicans could respond with several tactics. The attorney general oversees the legal argument Obama will make for his authority to take action under current immigration law, and Republicans could block the Senate confirmation of Loretta Lynch, who Obama tapped to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. The could also withhold funding, though another shutdown looks unlikely, or even supersede Obama with a new immigration bill, which the president has always said he favors over acting on his own.
The White House is feeling heat from the left on the details of their executive action plan, even though they’re not yet known. Activists and immigrant groups shared a recent New York Times editorial’s fear that the plan won’t go far enough in the face of sure opposition. They argue that if the fight’s inevitable, it might as well be over a strong position.
“So why not be unapologetic, go bold, and really protect millions of our families that are waiting for the president to act,” said Cristina Jimenez, the managing director of the youth immigration activist group United We Dream, in an interview with Jorge Ramos.
A potential plan allowing upwards of 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. could be cut to a couple million or less as the president focuses on smaller slices of the nation’s 11 million undocumented.
“If we’re in a position where we think that changing the lives of two million immigrants in this country is timid, I don’t think that’s most people’s definition of timid,” Earnest said.
Earnest also hoped that looming showdowns wouldn’t distract from seemingly lower-hanging legislative fruit elsewhere.
“We shouldn’t allow those differences to interfere with our ability There is common ground around areas like trade, in areas like investing in quality early childhood education programs. Both sides agree that tax reform is long overdue,” Earnest said.
The battle lines aren’t drawn yet, but the president’s pen is ready. So are his opponents. Real reform may emerge from the fray, but our politics may be left more fractured than ever.