President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak to the nation tomorrow night to reveal his plan for an executive order to address the issue of illegal immigration. The move is expected to be made official during an event at a Nevada high school on Friday. As CNN reports:
Obama's prime-time address [on Thursday] will be followed Friday by an event in Las Vegas, sources tell CNN. While exact details of his announcement aren't yet public, the basic outline of the plan, as relayed by people familiar with its planning, includes deferring deportation for the parents of U.S. citizens, a move that would affect up to 3.5 million people.
"Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken. Unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for far too long," Obama said in a video posted on his Facebook page Wednesday. "And so what I'm going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as President to make the system work better, even as I continue to work with Congress to encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem."…
…The President declared in June he wouldn't wait for Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system, initially saying he would announce changes by the end the summer. The decision was delayed until after the midterm elections, when the White House believed it wouldn't be caught up in campaign politics.
But Republicans are expressing deep anger at the anticipated move, saying unilateral action on immigration would forestall any legislative action.
Republicans are revving up the angry rhetoric machine, but they need to be careful how they respond to President Obama's executive order (EO). Every political journalist in the country knows this has been coming for some time, and the message has been clearly sent that President Obama's actions are a direct result of Republican inaction on the issue, so there's no room for Republicans to feign surprise at this point. The Obama administration has also made it clear that the President expects the GOP to move on this issue eventually; they have been up front about acknowledging that an EO should not be a substitute for Congressional legislation and should be replaced by a broader legislative change, which puts the ball squarely in the hands of Republicans once the order is signed.
While the President's EO is an important step for the immigration issue in general, in many ways this is also going to be a story of Republican inaction. As Jonathan Capehart explained in the Washington Post on Monday:
The introduction of a new report from American Bridge about Obama’s forthcoming executive action succinctly details what the president did over the course of a year to allow House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move on the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate with 68 votes in June 2013…
…If congressional Republicans don’t want Obama to take action on immigration, they should move on the comprehensive immigration reform bill sitting in the House. In the meantime, as I’ve written before, if the president is going to make people mad, he might as well do it to help people and let the GOP figure out what to do with the poisoned chalice of their own making.
Presidents Reagan, left, and Bush Sr. provide cover for Obama’s pending Executive Order.
President Obama is certainly making Republicans angry, even drawing out new threats of impeachment over the pending EO. But again, Republicans need to be careful not to go too far down the rhetoric hole, because railing on and on about the constitutionality of Obama's decision puts them at odds with history. Two other Presidents have acted alone on immigration reform: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Republicans will argue that those actions took place under different circumstances, but that's just semantics; it's hard to call Obama out for something that was also done by two previous Republican Presidents. In fact, Executive Action providing discretionary relief from deportation has been used by every President since Eisenhower.
Furthermore, Republicans will have trouble trying to make the President's EO seem more nefarious than it is. Alicia Caldwell of The Associated Press does a good job in breaking down what Obama can and cannot do via Executive Order, which largely involves deferred action through clear policies of enforcement and resource allocation. Obama can't "change the law" on immigration any more than you can, and the Administration has worked for months — along with other partners — in laying out the facts for the media to counter ridiculous charges from Congressional Republicans that the President won't work with them on the issue. Don't believe us? Check out today's editorial in the Denver Post calling on Republicans to stop complaining and get to work on their own legislation.
There's no way around it for the GOP: When they take control of both the House and Senate in January, they can either move forward with immigration reform or not. There is nobody left for Republicans to blame if they don't take action themselves. The GOP painted themselves into a corner with inaction on immigration, and the only way out is to make their own footprints. Ultimately, if Republicans don't actually move on the issue, 2016 voters aren't going to care why they failed to act with their Congressional majority — as Yoda might say, there is only "do" or "do not."