In my immigration post yesterday (need I remind you that I generally consider myself a supporter of reform?), I predicted that administration "surrogates [will] attempt to cite reams of precedent to demonstrate how Obama's de facto mass legalization of millions of illegal immigrant adults is really a non-story." Other presidents have used executive orders to impact immigration policy, they'd argue, deliberately ignoring questions of scope, intention and implication. Bullseye. Over to you, Senate Democrats:
Every President since Eisenhower has taken exec action on immigration – 11 Presidents acting on 39 different occasions over past 60 years.— Senate Democrats (@SenateDems) November 17, 2014
But even officially partisan Democrats couldn't match the efforts of their allies in the mainstream media. The Associated Press published a "report" that could easily have been concocted in the basement of the DNC:
Two presidents have acted unilaterally on immigration - and both were Republican. Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush extended amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986. Neither faced the political uproar widely anticipated if and when President Barack Obama uses his executive authority to protect millions of immigrants from deportation. Reagan's and Bush's actions were conducted in the wake of a sweeping, bipartisan immigration overhaul and at a time when "amnesty" was not a dirty word. Obama is acting as the country - and Washington - are bitterly divided over a broken immigration system and what to do about 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Obama wants to extend protection from deportation to millions of immigrant parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and expand his 2-year-old program that shields immigrants brought illegally to this country as children. A tea party-influenced GOP is poised to erupt, if and when Obama follows through on his promise.
Republicans have done this, too you guys, and nobody made a peep back then. But now the Tea Party GOP is gearing up to explode just because Obama's keeping a promise. Nice work. The piece goes on to list several executive actions on immigration from the 1980's and 90's, the most significant of which were efforts to manage the implementation and enforcement of major immigration legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan. Let's return to Ross Douthat's New York Times column we cited yesterday. He succinctly explains the key differences between previous presidential orders and what Obama is expected to announce:
The reality is there is no agreed-upon limit to the scope of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law because no president has attempted anything remotely like what Obama is contemplating. In past cases, presidents used the powers he’s invoking to grant work permits to modest, clearly defined populations facing some obvious impediment (war, persecution, natural disaster) to returning home. None of those moves even approached this plan’s scale, none attempted to transform a major public policy debate, and none were deployed as blackmail against a Congress unwilling to work the president’s will.
And again, Douthat makes the politically relevant point that Obama's impending amnesty move was hotly debated during the recent election cycle, in which the opposition party won a resounding victory -- a repudiation of the president's leadership. Obama is forging ahead as if the country just validated his agenda. Back in reality, the country has been asked about the president's specific proposal, and the verdict ain't pretty for the White House. Many headlines in the wake of Obama's post-election press conference featured the president's statement to voters: "I hear you." The context of that presser and his subsequent actions practically scream, "but I'm not listening." Finally, I might just go ahead and embed this clip in every single immigration/executive order post that I write for the remainder of this administration:
Oh, and one last related note. Oregon's deep blue electorate -- which re-elected a scandal-plagued Democratic governor this month, following one of the most catastrophic state-level policy failures in history, and increased his Democratic majorities -- also voted to repeal a law granting drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. By a two-to-one margin. And despite supporters of the rejected provision massively outspending the other side. The political winds are still a-blowin', Democrats.