Barack Obama should really stop making self-imposed deadlines. Every time he has it has come back to haunt him. On immigration it is no different and it has made Republicans increasingly giddy about the midterms. Late last week the President announced he would delay a decision on immigration until after the election. This marks a stunning turnaround from the President’s position at the start of the summer.
In June, Obama made clear that he was willing to act alone on immigration after comprehensive reform was pronounced dead in the House. More specifically, on June 30th the President announced in the Rose Garden, “I have also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can. If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.”
It is easy to see why Obama thought the move would be politically popular at the time. It would make the President look strong to his progressive base, appeal to Hispanics and make Republicans look like obstructionists if they attacked the move. But the President and his closest advisers should have considered the opposition the move would engender from his party. Few of the most endangered incumbents for the party are sitting in states or districts where the move by an unpopular President would be popular (Tom Udall in CO the exception). Between June and early September the President received pleas and warnings to not take executive action on immigration.
Endangered Democrats through the media and private phone calls argued forcefully against the President taking unilateral action. Both Democratic and GOP polling showed such a move would play strongly in several Senate races (including those Democrats are favored to win). By the time the President visited Wales and discussed the issue it was clear that his thinking had changed. Faced with overwhelming opposition from within his party and a GOP ready to crush Democratic candidates nationwide over the issue the President backed down. Such a move is yet another remarkable turnaround by the President and suggests this White House is once again politically naive from over two dozen Democrats.
These pleas also did not all come from conservative/moderate Democrats running in red states. Liberal stalwart Al Franken (MN) reportedly phoned the White House to say he opposed such a move. Franken is currently leading his Senate race by high single digits.
The full blame cannot go solely to the White House. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic leadership strongly backed the move despite reservations from many of their members. Perhaps Reid did not expect his members to so openly use the media to express their displeasure with the move. However, he should have considering how the electorates of their states would have reacted to such a move.
It is questionable whether delaying a decision until after the election will benefit Democratic candidates. Republicans made clear such a “cynical” move was unlikely to be forgotten.
Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that Democrats would have Obama’s “executive amnesty threats hanging over their campaigns like a storm cloud” until November, “The president and Senate Democrats are playing a cynical game, hoping that Americans paying attention now won’t be after the election,” Dayspring said. “And it will backfire.”
Still, Democrats would rather not have to defend the reality rather than a hypothetical. For many Democrats it may not matter though. A slate of new polls out on virtually every Senate race from YouGov shows Democratic incumbents trailing in Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. Further, Republicans lead in open seat races in West Virginia, Montana Michigan and South Dakota. Republicans had sizable leads in Georgia and Kentucky (Kansas had poll numbers for Roberts and former Democratic candidate Chad Taylor). Democrats only bright spot in the polling was Colorado Senator Mark Udall leading by three and Congressman Bruce Braley leading in Iowa. A set of polls from NBC/Marist largely backed up the YouGov findings (GOP leading in KY, AR, trailing in CO).
The new polls suggest a GOP wave may finally be forming or that the partisan lean of several Senate race starts are finally reverting to their GOP norm. With all campaigns now fully engaged and voters tuning in GOP attacks may finally be starting to make an impact. Worse, progressives and immigration advocates could finally start to be registering their disengagement in this election. The White House and endangered Democrats certainly hope they do not stay home this November. This flip flop certainly did not help remedy the party’s problem.
The White House’s handling of immigration has been a boon to the GOP. Yet again, the President has simultaneously given the GOP an issue to campaign on and disappointed his base yet again. Immigration reform groups have promised they will not forget the flip-flop and the GOP has made clear they will not let the issue drop before November. In short, the White House has given the GOP an even better chance of retaking the Senate in November. Now the GOP just needs to seize it.