There is a fascinating political shift occurring in Washington this weekend after President Barack Obama walked back from this pledge to act by the end of summer on his unilateral immigration actions and said that he will now wait until after the elections. The move has been openly discussed as an effort to support struggling Democratic candidates who are facing huge opposition to the immigration proposals and are leery of the President taking any action given his own record low polling numbers (which now stand at 38 percent according to Gallup). Various Democratic candidates have been complaining that they are losing ground due to the immigration proposal and that Obama’s pledge could further worsen the currently bleak picture for losses in Congress (and possibly losing both houses to the GOP). While the White House originally saw the proposal as a no-lose proposition and popular with the base, it has proven far less popular around the country, particularly in battleground states. Polls show far greater opposition than support for the proposal. Immigration advocates are denouncing the delay as putting “politics over people.”
The thrust of the decision is that the changes will be made but not until after voters are no longer able to express their opposition in the upcoming elections. That would seem to be a highly insulting proposition for voters, but it has not been treated as anything other than politics as usual by the media. It is a curious approach for a President who ran on the change slogan like “Time for A Change” and “Change You Can Believe In.” It is a “change you can count on [but not vote on]” approach to politics.
Two White House officials said that the move was meant to insulate Democrats from the public backlash to the immigration moves. This is in sharp contrast to the June 30th Rose Garden speech where Obama declared that he had directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer and that he would “adopt those recommendations without further delay.”
My views on unilateral presidential action are well known and have little to due to the merits of these issues (Indeed, I agree with some of the President’s policies and objectives). However, what continues to amaze me is the character of modern American politics. Here you have politicians openly discussing how to avoid voter wrath by withholding action in a major area. In reality, I think some GOP leaders are doing the same thing in light of the recent defeat of Cantor and the clear success of new candidates running against the immigration proposals (while the Chamber of Congress and industry interests are pressuring for legalization as beneficial to business). I simply find it remarkable that politicians can get away with openly withholding proposals to evade a public backlash but promising that, as soon as the voters go home, they will move on the proposals. It strikes me as a tad duplicitous, but then again little makes sense to me in American politics anymore.