If you've been following our coverage of President Obama's executive action on immigration, you already know that a key pillar of the White House's defense is that plenty of precedent exists for this type of move. Nothing to see here, except a bunch of anti-Obama overreaction from the usual suspects (if the "usual suspects" include multiple Congressional Democrats and Independents). We've repeatedly linked to a pair of columns that take apart the Obama administration's dishonest justification; they point out that Obama's move is much, much broader in scope and implication than anything executed by his predecessors -- whose far narrower previous orders either applied to discrete, targeted groups of people, or were issued in an effort to enforce a duly-passed law. The White House seems to be gravitating toward one ostensible parallel in particular, stating that Obama's decision is comparable to President George HW Bush's 1990 action on immigration. The president himself touted this example during his appearance on ABC's This Week, which we discussed earlier:
“If you look, every president – Democrat and Republican – over decades has done the same thing as I mentioned in my remarks,” he added. “George H. W. Bush, about 40 percent of the undocumented persons at the time were provided a similar kind of relief as a consequence of executive action.” When asked about using executive action, the president said his view on the issue has not changed. “If you look – the history is that I have issued fewer executive actions than most of my predecessors, by a longshot,” Obama said. “The difference is the response of Congress, and specifically the response of some of the Republicans. But if you ask historians, take a look at the track records of the modern presidency, I’ve actually been very restrained, and I’ve been very restrained with respect to immigration. I bent over backwards and will continue to do everything I can to get Congress to work because that’s my preference.”
First off, tallying the raw number of executive orders is pure misdirection. Conservatives aren't objecting to how many unilateral actions Obama has taken; they're upset about the magnitude, impact and context of those decisions. Obama surely realizes this, but since he's staked much of his legacy on the "stupidity" of the American people, this sort of answer is par for the course. As for the 'Bush did it, too!' excuse, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler -- who last week dismantled Obama's 'royal flip-flop' on the legality of this decree -- again goes to work:
Bush’s action in 1990 was designed to ease family disruptions caused by the landmark 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which allowed nearly 3 million illegal immigrants to gain legal permanent residency...The 1.5 million [40 percent] figure is too fishy to be cited by either the White House or the media. As best we can tell, this is a rounded-up estimate of the number of illegal immigrants who were married (1.3 million became 1.5 million.) But that figure was already overstated because it included applications that were pending or on appeal...Indeed, the 100,000 estimate that the INS gave on the day of the announcement might have been optimistic. Fewer than 50,000 applications had been received before the policy was superseded by a new law. The numbers generated by that law — a little more than 140,000 — further indicate that the universe of potential applicants was much smaller than 1.5 million, especially given that the law eased restrictions even more. In the end, 200,000 amounts to about 6 percent of the illegal immigrant population at the time, not 40 percent. Small wonder the White House prefers the larger number.
Ed Morrissey summarizes:
This is the report that the White House apparently seized like Rose grabbing a door off the Titanic, but it doesn’t support their argument at all. That’s because the actual number of applicants under Bush’s action came to just under 47,000. That’s 1/30th of the claim made by Earnest and Obama. Within a month, Kessler notes, Congress passed an amended version of the immigration law, which Bush signed, which gave an even wider window for family members to apply for deportation protection. The total number of those who applied under the new law, over a four-year period, was about 200,000 — less than 1/7th of the numbers Earnest and Obama claimed, and only about 6% of the overall illegal immigrant population at the time. None of this was a secret, and certainly shouldn’t have been to the White House, which has access to all of this data. Apparently, all they know how to do is troll Google for any supporting argument they can find.
Setting aside the bogus, wildly inflated statistics (pattern of behavior, anyone?) Bush's move in 1990 was undertaken in an effort to enforce a law passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan. Obama's decision, by contrast, was explicitly triggered as a means of circumventing Congress, a "consequence" of its failure to comply with the president's policy preferences. We've been wondering about how Republicans might retaliate against this overreach; Sen. Ted Cruz said over the weekend that he wants the Senate to block all Obama appointees until the amnesty is rescinded:
As we noted last week, Cruz isn't alone on this one. When I first saw the headline about the Texan's proposal this morning, I thought, what about Hagel's replacement? Would Republicans really allow the Secretary of Defense position to sit vacant or with a placeholder for an extended stretch while America is at war with ISIS? Cruz allows an exception for "vital national security positions," which has to include SecDef -- right? Also, kudos to Chris Wallace for a good, tough question on the Attorney General issue. Would the Cruz plan ensure that, gulp, Eric Holder stays on the job even longer?