President Barack Obama plans to delay any executive order on immigration until after the November elections, following the advice of Democratic Senators fearing a backlash at the polls.
Obama’s turnabout is in stark contrast to June, when the president pledged to fix the U.S. immigration system by summer’s end. The delay illustrates concerns that an executive order would further threaten the Democratic Senate majority.
“The president wants to do this in a way that is sustainable for the long-term, that is most effective and good for the country,” said a White House official in a statement released Saturday. “The reality the president has had to weigh is that we’re in the midst of the political season, and because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections.”
POLITICO reporters Carrie Budoff Brown and Edward-Isaac Dovere say the announcement comes as little surprise to observers of the process, particularly as the White House backed away last week from the September deadline; Democrats in the Senate also called on the president to delay delivering an executive order.
Nevertheless, the decision could have consequences for Obama with Hispanic voters angered over the president’s overall handling of immigration throughout his presidency. Democrats once saw immigration reform legislative and political slam-dunk, particularly after the 2012 election.
But two years later, Democrats remain divided over their approach on the issue.
Obama will discuss his decision in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing Sunday, according to a White House official.
Starting Saturday, the White House began appraising Capitol Hill, immigrant advocate groups and other outside interests, just hours after the president returned from a NATO summit in Wales. Obama told reporters on Friday he would use the flight to study his options.
“The president has had many conversations and consultations throughout this process — including with his Cabinet, members of Congress, stakeholders, and advocates on this issue,” the same White House official told POLITICO. “The president is confident in his authority to act, and he will before the end of the year. But again, nothing will replace Congress acting on comprehensive immigration reform and the president will keep pressing Congress to act.”
Only a few months ago, the issue of immigration reform seemed like winning political issue for the White House.
Obama could use immigration to illustrate Congress’ resistance to act, which forced him to find solutions through executive action. With the midterms approaching, it was going to be his way of enhancing Democratic turnout in Latino, labor and progressive voters, who increasingly identify immigration reform as the leading political cause.
Conventional wisdom held that voters who turn against Democrats after Obama acted on immigration was already motivated Republicans.
Turnout, predominantly among Latinos, seemed like a strong dynamic in a Democratic win, such as Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s re-election effort, and the Senate bids of Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Bruce Braley in Iowa, as well as House races nationwide.
As the White House insists the Department of Homeland Security, not politics, would be the deciding factor, threatened Democrats began speaking out almost immediately. Resistance came from the usual suspects, such as Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, but then push-back came from reliably liberal Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota, locked in a race that he is trying to prevent from becoming too competitive.
Locked in a debate over whether the White House should announce a program to put off deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants before Election Day, Obama is aware that whatever choice he makes will be the excuse used for Democrats losing the Senate.
Progressives were particularly harsh in response.
Service Employees International Union leaders issued a statement saying they “are deeply disappointed, but not paralyzed.”
Others say the delay just raises expectations further for the executive order Obama promised by end of the year.
“There is going to be a lot of skepticism about whether he will actually do it,” said immigration strategist Angela Kelley from the Center for American Progress. “He will have to present a pretty strong, convincing case that the issue isn’t going to be left at the altar yet again.”