ANALYSIS: Obama’s quick pivot to immigration reform
DENVER — Just hours after signing the legislation ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, President Barack Obama told the country that “there are no winners” after the two-week stalemate that cost the country’s economy more than $20 billion.
But, in the political world, there is a clear winner — the president.
Republicans, by following a bone-headed strategy in pursuit of an unattainable goal, have put their own approval ratings in the toilet 13 months before the 2014 midterm election.
Further, they’ve put some wind back in the sails of an administration that had been rudderless and adrift almost from the start of the president’s second term.
On Thursday morning, Obama looked to press his advantage by urging Republicans in Congress to end the political brinksmanship and to start working together with Democrats on budget negotiations, immigration reform and the farm bill that has stalled in the House.
“To all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change,” Obama said, implicitly chiding the Republicans who seemingly oppose his administration at every turn.
“You don’t like a particular policy, or a particular president, then argue for your position,” Mr. Obama said in the 15-minute statement. “Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it.”
While another stern lecture from the president isn’t likely to improve relations between the White House and Capitol Hill, Obama does have a stronger hand in the upcoming political fights; and by pivoting quickly to immigration reform, he’s taking advantage of a sudden window of opportunity.
During his remarks Thursday, Obama re-framed the debate over comprehensive immigration reform, reminding the country of the Senate proposal, passed with broad bipartisan support earlier this year, that’s lingering in the House.
“There’s already a broad coalition across America that’s behind this effort of comprehensive immigration reform — from business leaders to faith leaders to law enforcement,” the president said.
“In fact, the Senate has already passed a bill with strong bipartisan support that would make the biggest commitment to border security in our history; would modernize our legal immigration system; make sure everyone plays by the same rules, makes sure that folks who came here illegally have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, meet their responsibilities.”
The legislation, crafted by a bipartisan group of eight senators including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, would spend $46 billion to enhance security on the U.S. Mexico border and create a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“It will establish a sensible and rational system for the future flow of immigrants to this country, put in place a process to reunite families and provide a path to citizenship for millions of people who came to this country for a better but are living in the shadows of our society,” Bennet said. “I suggest the House take a hard look at the Senate bill. There is no reason we can’t work out a final bill to pass into law in the coming months.”
Obama noted that the legislation is likely to grow the nation’s economy over the next several decades.
“Our economy would be 5 percent larger two decades from now,” the president said. “That’s $1.4 trillion in new economic growth.
“The majority of Americans think this is the right thing to do. And it’s sitting there waiting for the House to pass it. Now, if the House has ideas on how to improve the Senate bill, let’s hear them. Let’s start the negotiations. But let’s not leave this problem to keep festering for another year, or two years, or three years. This can and should get done by the end of this year.”
The president is speaking to a House GOP caucus that is fractured into factions, the body’s growing dysfunction writ large by the debacle of the last two weeks.
While many of the conservative hard-liners who aimed to dismantle Obamacare by shutting down the government will never support comprehensive immigration reform, more moderate Republicans — those concerned with the GOP’s ability to win national elections, not just their own grip on their safe, gerrymandered, primary-ripe seats — have likely been chastened by recent polls showing their approval ratings in the 20s.
On immigration reform, Republican leaders have another impossible choice.
Speaker John Boehner can again listen to the rank and file members and refuse to take up the Senate bill or he can listen to business groups interested in growing the country’s educated workforce — and risk revolt from within his caucus — by moving ahead on a policy issue that could help the party repair its image with the public and broaden its appeal to Hispanics, the country’s fastest growing demographic group.
The White House knows this.
Pressing for comprehensive immigration reform is a win-win: either win passage of another landmark law that will add to Obama’s legacy, or solidify the public’s current perception of the GOP as a party that’s controlled by it’s far-right flank and appears closed to Hispanics and other minorities heading into next year’s midterms.
Of those two scenarios, most Washington observers are betting on the latter.
Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, told FOX31 Denver the day after last November’s election that saw President Obama reelected in large part due to overwhelming support from Hispanic voters, that his party understood the political imperative of working with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform.
But even after the politically damaging shutdown, even after the Senate bill passed with 68 of 100 senators voting in support, Gardner told FOX31 Denver Thursday that the legislation still isn’t likely to move ahead in the House.
“I recognize this country has a broken immigration system, and I am willing to work with anyone who is serious about finding a solution,” Gardner said.
“I have always said that immigration reform must be begin with border security, period. Border security doesn’t just mean throwing money at the problem and doubling the amount of agents on the border like the Senate proposal does. Over 40% of those who are in this country illegally have overstayed their visas. Examples like this demonstrate that border security and interior enforcement of our borders are equally important parts of overall ‘border security.’
“I also believe that border security is not complete unless it contains guest worker programs that help meet labor needs. Without a guest worker program to meet demands in agriculture, high tech, construction and other areas, security will be incomplete,” said Gardner, whose district includes all of Colorado’s eastern plains.
“Of course I will evaluate and consider any bill that comes across my desk, but I am often weary of ones that are deemed ‘comprehensive.’ They are so big it is difficult to grasp the complex interactions of the various pieces of legislation – just take a look at the President’s healthcare law. The House will take up proposals one at a time.”