Democrats’ Game of Chicken: Executive Action for Deportation & Loretta Lynch’s Nomination

The Obama-led Democratic party is playing a game of chicken with the GOP, and the real losers will be us people of color yet again.

With a few legislative days left before Democratic-majority Senate leaves for the holiday break and will be transformed into a Republican-majority Senate in January 2015, Democratic Leader Harry Reid will not put Attorney General nomination Loretta Lynch through the confirmation hearings. If confirmed, Loretta Lynch would be the first woman of color and African American woman ever to hold the role of Attorney General. As a result, she will be forced to endure the nomination process during the 2015 Senate —which will be Republican majority and controlled— after Obama signed an executive order to delay deportation of millions of undocumented workers today.

The idea behind the game of chicken is that while each player prefers not to yield to the other, the worst possible outcome for both players results when both players do not yield. The game “chicken” has its origins in a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve or both die. If one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved will be deemed a “chicken,” a coward. If both swerve, no one collides, and neither would be accused of being a chicken. This White House and a Republican-controlled Congress will never swerve, especially with the 2016 presidential election on the line. Neither party wants to be perceived as chickens by voters.
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The White House’s executive action to delay deportation of millions of undocumented workers —mostly parents and spouses of American citizens— is a dare to the GOP in Congress. In essence, Obama is telling the party of family values, frightened by Latino voters in 2016: “Impeach me, come after me, fight me, shut down the government for trying to keep Latino and immigrant families together.” With his release of an executive action to stop deportation of undocumented law-abiding parents of American citizens, Congressional members threatened retaliation through blockage of debt ceiling, the government budget and future Presidential nominations. “If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday morning.

Now with Loretta Lynch’s confirmation being delayed for the 2015 Republican-controlled Congress, that Congress is further enabled to dare back in this game of chicken. While threatening to shut down the government over the impending budget approval and debt ceiling, they can block Lynch’s nomination and attempt to embarrass the White House through an inquisition on her position on the legality of executive action.

In a game of chicken, the players are only supposed to be the real winners and losers. However, there will be a third loser in this game: the Latino and Black communities. Obama won’t and can’t have both: a confirmation of Loretta Lynch AND delayed deportations. He and Congress will have to sacrifice the African American community or the Latino community—two constituencies that are the backbone to both of his Presidential campaigns and the Democratic parties.

To add punch to shove, it will be the women of our communities of color who will be the most penalized despite our strong voter support for this president. African American women make up 62% of the African American vote and 96% of them backed Obama in the 2012 election (versus just 87% of African American men). This is an amazing opportunity to present another African American woman in the White House who is not the wife of the President and in one of the most powerful decision-making roles in this country and across the world.

In the Latino community, women constituted 55% of the electorate. Latinas voted for Obama more than Latinos: 76% versus 65%. If this executive action does not go through or gets rescinded or gets blocked through Congressional legislation, Latinas will be more affected by a lack of some form of deportation relief. According to a Latino Decisions 2013 poll, “in terms of family relationships, undocumented Latinas have more family members who are American citizens (75% vs. 68%) or permanent residents (62% vs. 56%).” 

Of course, if the Democrats put CIR through when Democrats were in control of both the Congress and White House in 2008-2010 and the Democrats took care of Loretta Lynch’s nomination now, all of this could have been avoided. That would be too easy, sensical and humane. The Democrats want to play a political game of chicken in their collision course with their strongest backers, and the ultimate losers will be the Latino and Black communities.

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You can follow Christina Saenz-Alcántara on Twitter @ctsaenz.

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