President Barack Obama stumbled badly over the weekend, drawing criticism from the left and the right, when he abandoned his earlier pledge to implement executive action to reform immigration policy by the end of summer.
To his critics, Obama’s new deadline is nakedly political: He will still take the action, but will simply wait until after the 2014 midterm elections are over.
“It’s very telling that they’re not even trying to hide the fact that this was a political decision,” Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, told Business Insider in an interview Monday morning. “That’s very frustrating for people.”
Anonymous White House aides openly admitted their electoral concerns to major outlets shortly after the decision was announced last Saturday. The big question, frustrated advocates have been left wondering: How did Obama manage to get the politics so wrong?
Experts have long predicted the 2014 to be a tough year for Democrats, who will be defending a number of critical Senate seats in Republican-leaning electorates. Obama’s popularity has been in decline for a while. Immigration reform proposals have consistently drawn strong Republican pushback. And conservatives have never been happy with Obama’s executive actions.
“This is a self-inflicted wounded that the administration and the president inflicted on themselves. They had the polling numbers … way before on the immigration action in the red states,” said Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition. “The administration knew about this well in advance. Kind of like political malpractice.”
Even the White House’s own explanation struck many as odd. On Sunday, Obama blamed the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors along the U.S.-Mexican border for changing the “politics” of the immigration issue. But that crisis was already well underway by the end of June, when Obama made his “end of summer” promise; the president even addressed the unacompanied minor issue in the same speech.
The punishment for that miscalculation has been swift. Though Obama and his aides also stressed that a later date for executive action could achieve more “sustainable” immigration reform in the long run, the administration created the clear perception that it was prioritizing election-year politics over the substance it once touted.
“We were nervous that this was going to happen. And we were disappointed.For us that has been such an urgent matter for so long. And it’s been a broken promise after promise,” said Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy at United We Dream.
“It’s a punch to the gut,” added Angela Maria Kelley, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, in an MSNBC interview.
Even conservatives who staunchly opposed the executive actions slammed the delay as an openly cynical attempt to shield Democratic lawmakers from political blowback.
“There is a never a ‘right’ time for the president to declare amnesty by executive action,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) fumed after the announcement was made public, “but the decision to simply delay this deeply-controversial and possibly unconstitutional unilateral action until after the election — instead of abandoning the idea altogether — smacks of raw politics.”
Obama had, in fact, condemned midterm politics when he announced his plans for executive action back in June.
“Even as I take those steps that I can within my existing legal authorities to make the immigration system work better, I’m going to continue to reach out to House Republicans,” Obama said then. “Maybe it will be after the midterms, when they’re less worried about politics.”
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