Obama to set off bomb in middle of midterms

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By Greg Sargent,

from The Washington Post,

Now that Republicans have made it clear that they will not participate on any level in basic problem solving when it comes to our immigration crisis, it is now on Obama to determine just how far he can go unilaterally, particularly when it comes to easing the pace of deportations. This is going to be one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency in substantive, moral, and legal terms, and politically, it could set off a bomb this fall, in the middle of the midterm elections.

I’m told there are currently internal discussions underway among Democrats over whether ambitious action by Obama could be politically harmful in tough races. According to two sources familiar with internal discussions, some top Dems have wondered aloud whether Obama going big would further inflame the GOP base, with little payoff for Dems in red states where Latinos might not be a key factor. I don’t want to overstate this: These are merely discussions, not necessarily worries.

Indeed, some Dems are making the opposite case, and that argument is described well in a new Politico piece out this morning. The story notes that Obama has privately told immigration advocates demanding ambitious action that they might not get what they want, telling them: “We need to right-size expectations.” And yet, according to Politico, some advocates still hope for aggressive action and believe Dems see it as in their own political interests.

One place where this is plainly true is Colorado. GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner is likely to find himself increasingly on the defensive on immigration, and this is one top-tier race where an aggressive pro-reform stance from Dems could actually help deliver victory.

Beyond this, though, my sense of internal discussions currently underway is that no one is really sure how the politics of this will play out. Indeed, to hear one source familiar with those discussions tell it, Dems mostly see this as guesswork, since we’re in largely uncharted political territory here: Yes, Americans support immigration reform and a sensible path to legalization, but no one knows how the public will greet unilateral action to bring about temporary relief from deportation, at least for some.

Indeed, this is probably a a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation: While aggressive action will provide fodder for Republicans to drive their base into a frenzy with #ObummerTyranny talk, it could also bait Republicans into overreach that alienates swing voters and motivates the Dem base in a year when the midterm dropoff problem is putting control of the Senate in peril.

And that is one reason why, in the end, Obama must make this decision based on what he truly believes the legal constraints on unilateral action are, rather than letting it be dictated by a sense of the political constraints here. Some advocates believe the White House will allow an overly cautious sense of the political constraints to hamstring him beyond what the lawyers actually think is within his authority. Yet others believe that ultimately the decision will be driven by a genuine evaluation of what is legally possible. We’ll find out soon enough, but let’s hope it’s the latter.

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