I see the much-anticipated day of President Obama’s coronation has finally arrived. You can’t say he didn’t warn us. In a sense, the motivations for this are the same as those which pushed President Bush to go against public opinion after the 2006 election, doubling down on the Iraq War and the surge. Of course, he convinced those elected politicians to go along with it, while President Obama can’t be bothered to do that. The audacity of it, though, is just remarkable. It’s as if on immigration, executive power, privacy, drones, gay marriage and Gitmo he’s rolled up his sleeves and is flashing his “What would Dick Cheney do” bracelet.
So what’s the political fallout for this? Not impeachment, which despite MSNBC’s frequent teasing, is not in the cards. Most of the more outspoken members of the GOP are holding their tongues. What’s more interesting is how this will play out as a tug of war between the pro-comprehensive immigration reform establishment and the conservative wing of the party. Ted Cruz’s line on this is the most interesting. To me, it sounds like he’s calling for this to be a variant of Rob Tracinski’s “Amnesty Fight Club” tactic: turn it into a fight over nominations and funding for agencies, not one that goes toward a shutdown but one that gets into the weeds of internal Beltway fights. The more this is a fight about executive overreach and not immigration, the better for Republicans, and most of them know it.
In his attempt to troll the hard right, Obama has actually handed them a wonderful gift by killing comprehensive immigration reform dead. Legislative amnesty is finished, it’s done, it’s pining for the fjords. Conservative Republicans get to finally advance border and enforcement reforms without even dealing with those here illegally! It’s just what the Bob Goodlattes of the world have wanted to do all along: ditch the clunky amnesty tradeoffs and deal with citizenship issues last, only after securing the border. It’s the Republican establishment, consultant and donor classes, and the Chamber who are closest to the blast radius on this, turning anyone viewed as pro-amnesty toxic overnight. They will be viewed by the GOP base as supportive of the president’s overreach despite all denials (“I was in favor of what he did but not how he did it” is always a weak position), which will make for some very awkward defenses in the 2016 stakes.
As for Obama, this is one more rejection of the progressive legacy he supposedly espoused, as Andrew Evans notes:
“That Obama is preparing to act against our constitutional order, if not the outright letter of the law, in his position as chief executive is shown by the fact that he is willing to trash his executive order if Congress passes a particular law. His executive order is intended as a substitute for a law that Congress has not passed. He is executing what he wants Congress to do, not what they are doing. This executive order is not the administration of the law that Wilson, much less the framers of our constitutional order, envisioned. This is executive fiat to bypass a Congress that is unwilling to pass the president’s favored law. This is government by illiberal principles.”
The Obama of 2008, the one who talked such a good game on fixing Washington, restoring constitutional order, and bipartisanship, who understood that this type of executive order is illegal, is truly gone forever. We’re left with the Eric Cartman presidency – “whatever, I do what I want.”