Why The President’s Excuse For Delaying Immigration Action Isn’t Complete Crap

President Obama announced, this weekend, that he will be delaying his promised executive actions on immigration until after the midterms, and needless to say, many of us were not amused. After a few days of letting the apoplexy subside, and listening to folks at the White House explain themselves a little more, I’ve moved about an inch back in the White House’s direction. I still think the decision is a terrible one, and the excuse is still crap, but I no longer think it’s complete crap.

CBS NEWS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett was the first reporter to ask a non-ISIS-related question at Monday’s daily briefing, instead grilling Press Secretary Josh Earnest on the president’s decision to delay action on immigration. There are some key points to note in this exchange, not the least of which is that the White House is freely conceding that this constitutes a broken promise. What’s particularly disturbing in this response, though, is that the White House is fairly boasting about the president’s willingness to enrage his own supporters:

What the president wants to do is he wants to ensure that all of the work that has been done over the last several years to build this powerful bipartisan coalition in support of immigration reform is sustained. And by injecting an executive action in the midst of this hyper-partisan, hyper-political environment shortly before the midterms, that will have a negative impact on the broader public support and on the sustainability of immigration reform.

So I guess the short answer to your question is, the president is willing to take a little political heat from the pundits, from some of the advocates in the Hispanic community in particular, in order to ensure that the policy that he puts forward is one that can be sustained. And the fact is we haven’t seen a similar willingness from congressional Republicans to take a little heat to do what’s in the best interest of the country. In fact, we’ve seen congressional Republicans do exactly the opposite. They’ve been in a situation where they don’t want to take any political heat, even though they know that acting on bipartisan immigration reform would create jobs, it would expand economic growth, it would reduce the deficit. That’s why it’s strongly supported by the faith community, by the law enforcement community, by the business community, by the labor community.

Garrett’s rejoinder, “So not doing what he said he was going to do on the timeline, he said he was going to do it as an act of courage,” pretty well sums up the merits of this argument, because as no other reporter pointed out, the entire reason this issue was “injected” into midterm politics was that Obama injected it in there, back in June. As was pointed out elsewhere in the briefing, continuing to promise executive action by the end of the year also doesn’t remove it as a midterm issue, either. Everything Earnest said about the politics of this issue was also true back in June, when the president made his promise.

However, when the president made his announcement in June, the huge hair-on-fire “border crisis” had not surfaced as a national issue yet, a factor that the president mentioned in his interview with Chuck Todd, but one which, politically, seemed to cut in favor of keeping that promise. Many, if not most, decent Americans recoiled at the reaction of anti-immigrant conservatives to busloads of innocent children, and Congress’ refusal to act on the president’s emergency appropriations request provided the perfect pretext for prosecutorial discretion.

So, here’s why it’s not complete crap. If you view this issue in a 100% apolitical context, there is an argument to be made that, on the substance, many Americans have been misled into conflating the unaccompanied children issue with immigration reform, particularly deferred action. On the substance, it would be, as Earnest said, better for the policy if Republicans weren’t spending millions of dollars to further misinform people about the issue, and maybe even better for those kids, who aren’t in line for deferred action, but who need to get their day in court. None of this is politically persuasive, but on the substance, the misinformed din will be relatively more quiet in December.

To be clear, though, no one — not me, not even the White House — really expects anyone to believe that political pressure from vulnerable Democrats had nothing to do with this. It’s just that, upon further reflection, the other excuse given appears to hold a tiny bit of water.

As for the other questions I had about the immigration issue, those answers will have to wait. The White House won’t be previewing the recommendations, partially because, as the president said, they still need to be T-crossed and I-dotted. One possible interpretation of earnest’s many answers on this on Monday is that the recommendations are so bold that the political explosion would have been greater than we’d all anticipated, and after a delay like this, they’ll need to be.

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