Obama’s August Playbook: Own the Immigration Fix
Policy + Politics

Obama’s August Playbook: Own the Immigration Fix

REUTERS/Larry Downing

It’s possible, of course, that President Obama may end up missing Republican lawmakers during the five-week congressional recess that’s just begun – he won’t have them around as a useful foil on the immigration crisis and the economic plight of the middle class.

“The president will be singing ‘Bring in the Clowns’ before too long,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato quipped Friday.

After weeks of bruising combat between Obama and Republican leaders over everything from executive overreach and income inequality to the scores of unaccompanied children from Central America who have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, Obama will have the political stage largely to himself until early September as he makes the case for more unilateral action.

Related: ‘Do-Nothing Congress’ Gets Ready for An Unearned 5-Week Vacation   

House Republicans left town late Friday after passing a scaled-back, $659 million border control measure designed to speed up deportations – a bill much different and far less costly than Obama’s $3.7 billion request.

Republicans believe the bill’s passage will inoculate them from taunts that they left town without accomplishing anything, though the bill will never get through the Democratic Senate.

That’s not how Obama sees it. In a preview of his likely messaging this summer, Obama on Friday accused House Republicans for irresponsibly leaving town without finding a compromise with the Senate and the White House on additional resources to house, process and in some cases deport the Central American children.

“Our efforts administratively so far have helped to slow the tide of child migrants who are trying to come to our country,” Obama said at a White House press conference. “But without additional resources and help from Congress, we’re just not going to have the resources we need to fully solve the problem.” He added, “That means while they are out on vacation, I’m going to have to make some tough choices …I’m going to have to act alone.”  

Related: Wave of Migrant Children Threatens to Swamp U.S. Immigration Courts

The president and his family of course will vacation again on Martha’s Vineyard for much of August. If the past is prologue, Obama likely will take day trips or make major announcements when he’s not playing golf or enjoying leisurely dinners.

In terms of the border crisis, the president is preparing to “announce new measures that would potentially allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the United States without fear of deportation,” The Washington Post reported over the weekend. By any measure, this is known as amnesty.

One possibility would be to strengthen or expand his Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program of 2012 that granted temporary relief for some children of illegal immigrants. Republicans blame that program in part for the current crisis and want to gut or curtail it.

“I would expect him to take pretty aggressive administrative action to try to prevent any speeded up deportation of the children and adolescents from Central America,” William Galston, a policy expert with the Brookings Institution, told The Fiscal Times.

Related: House Greenlights Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Obama

It’s conceivable that Obama may finally visit the southwest border to see the conditions first hand. He was sharply criticized by Republicans and some Democrats last month for declining to visit the border while speaking at three fundraising events in Texas, according to the The Washington Post

On other fronts, Obama could try to counter criticism that he’s been largely disengaged from world events by taking even more aggressive action with European allies against Russia to protest its military intervention in Ukraine. Obama announced a new round of tough sanctions against Russia last week after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. 

"Certainly, he needs to keep the heat on Russia with sanctions, and make sure these sanctions have teeth,” said former Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX), a lawyer and one-time chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Obama will also continue to hammer Republicans for what he claims is a failure to address the needs of middle-class Americans and young people, while wasting time and taxpayer money on trying to sue him for executive overreach.

Related: Obamacare Still Likely To Haunt the Midterm Elections 

Obama was still steaming Friday over House action authorizing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to file suit against the president for allegedly exceeding his executive authority by postponing an Affordable Care Act provision requiring businesses to provide insurance. He seemingly enjoyed watching Boehner get rolled again by Tea Party members on Thursday, when he had to pull the GOP immigration bill for lack of support.

“Just a few days earlier they voted to sue me for acting on my own, and then when they couldn’t pass a bill [Thursday] they put out a statement suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill,” Obama exclaimed.

Obama has called the lawsuit resolution “a political stunt.” Some Democrats believe the suit is merely a warm-up for another attempt by Republicans to impeach a Democratic president. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) warned on Fox News Sunday that Republicans would have to consider the “I word” or impeachment if Obama tries to extend amnesty to millions more illegal immigrants.   

Some Democratic strategists also see a political gain to such speculation because it revs up their base and helps raise campaign funds. “It would be foolish to discount the possibility that this Republican Congress at some point in time would consider impeachment,” Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama senior adviser who has been fanning impeachment speculation himself, said on ABC’s This Week.   

Related: If Obama Offers Amnesty, Impeachment May Follow 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign, told MSNBC last week, “Republicans don’t want to do anything. Democrats want to help build ladders to the middle class. That’s the contrast for November.”

Yet, Republicans say the president – with approval ratings still in the low 40s – won’t be able to save the Democrats from defeat in November. “The president is going to continue engaging in the same old tired playbook of going after Republicans and blaming them for the inaction of Washington . . . to try to energize the left wing of their party,” said Ron Bonjean, a former communications strategist for House Republicans.

Bonjean says he doesn’t think that will save the Democrats from defeat this fall; but John Zogby, the veteran political pollster, is not so sure – especially if Obama can galvanize millennial voters again. “Rhetorically, the president needs to hammer home the theme that this Congress has not only done nothing, but it gloats about it…. They should be an easy target.”

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