The President’s Immigration Announcement Blindsides the GOP and Muddies Its Message

Jun 16, 2012
2:21 PM

Talk about being all over the place.

Yesterday, right after President Obama announced his administration's intentions to shift part of this country's immigration policy to allow a "deferred action" of two years that delays deportations and grants work permits for close to 1 million undocumented youth—1) who came to this country with their parents before they were 16; 2) have lived here for five years; 3) have no major criminal record; 4) have either gotten a high school diploma, GED, have served in the military, or were honorably discharged from the armed forces; and 5) are under 30 years old—you would think that the Republican party would be a bit more consistent in its messaging, being that it is an election year and all that.

Instead, there are reactions that are literally all over the map about a policy shift that is not amnesty, is not immunity, and is no way near a pathway to citizenship. For all the talk about this historic shift, it basically boils down to this: if you meet the requirements set forth and described above and here, you will be able to get a 2-year work permit and not be deported. That is all. After two years, who know where you will be? 

But it is obvious that the President's announcement resonated with many yesterday, especially many US Latino voters who felt that his record on immigration and immigration reform has been awful. Now that this announcement has been made (with its skeptics, and rightfully so), we think that the President has locked the US Latino vote for 2012 and that his poll numbers will actually go up because of it.

So, yes, what the President did was a political move. We got it.

Which brings us to the Republicans and how blindsided they must feel right now. Like we just said, the President's move was a political one. And last time we checked he is running in an election. He won this one issue, right now. Why? All you need to do is read what Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio had to say:

"It's an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney said. Obama's executive order to allow some illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and stay in the U.S. legally was problematic, he said, because "an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents."

Mind you, this is the same person who just a few months ago was preaching "self-deportation," rejection of the DREAM Act, and border fences during the GOP primary. How do you say Etch-a-Sketch in Spanish?

Rubio, who is still being thought of as a VP candidate for the GOP and was pushing for a "DREAM Act lite" but now may drop it, also provided some very muted comments, when he said the following:

“There is broad support for the idea that we should figure out a way to help kids who are undocumented through no fault of their own, but there is also broad consensus that it should be done in a way that does not encourage illegal immigration in the future,” the Florida senator said. “This is a difficult balance to strike, one that this new policy, imposed by executive order, will make harder to achieve in the long run.

“Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer, but it is a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” he added. “And by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”

We are wondering if Romney and Rubio were actually listening to the President's speech, since the President basically said the same thing as Rubio:

Now, let’s be clear. This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is the — it is the right thing to do…

Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There’s still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st-century economic and security needs; reform that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty about the workers that they’ll have; reform that gives our science and technology sectors certainty that the young people who come here to earn their Ph.D.s won’t be forced to leave and start new businesses in other countries; reform that continues to improve our border security and lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

Just six years ago, the unlikely trio of John McCain, Ted Kennedy and President Bush came together to champion this kind of reform, and I was proud to join 23 Republicans in voting for it. So there’s no reason that we can’t come together and get this done.

And as long as I’m president, I will not give up on this issue, not only because it’s the right thing to do for our economy — and CEOs agree with me — not just because it’s the right thing to do for our security, but because it’s the right thing to do, period. And I believe that eventually enough Republicans in Congress will come around to that view as well.

While Romney tries to now stay moderate and Rubio tries really hard to not congratulate the President for his remarks, other Republicans, like former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour had a different opinion:

“There are many states with many, many Spanish-speaking people who came here illegally who have good jobs, who worked hard, who’ve got families, who paid taxes, and never committed a crime,” Barbour said during a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “Rick Perry said during the campaign, I think very thoughtfully, somebody who’s got that kind of record here, tell them, ‘You can stay, here’s a two-year work permit.’ ”

And while Barbour tried to put a little compassion into the issue, neo-nativist Rep. Steve King of Iowa was planning to sue the President. As he told Mike Huckabee during a radio interview:

“I will tell you that — I’m not without experience on this — I’m prepared to bring a suit and seek a court order to stop implementation of this policy,” King said.

“I have done it once in the past successfully when then-Governor Tom Vilsack thought he could legislate by executive order — and the case of King vs. Vilsack is in the books. And that individual, by the way, is now the Secretary of Agriculture. I wonder if he’s not counseling the president on his legal proceedings.”

Huckabee followed up, asking King: “You plan to sue this administration for implementing something that you believe should have required legislative process and approval?”

“That is correct,” King replied.

As for the Republican National Committee, this is the statement that its chairman gave:

“After three and a half years of not following through on his promises on immigration, President Obama went around Congress to take a purely political action,” Priebus said in the statement. “The president may think this helps his electoral chances but it complicates the potential for a long term solution.”

So yes, GOP, we know this is not a long-term solution, which is EXACTLY what the President said during his remarks. And now, the GOP has a bigger problem. The President has made immigration an issue again and people are listening, especially those US Latinos who are voting in key swing states. The Republicans' current choice was siding with neo-nativists during the GOP primary and even though Romney is trying to soften his stance, YouTube and Google already has him on record saying things that would make someone like Rep. King happy but most US Latino voters perplexed and pissed. Do you really think that the GOP base will all of a sudden think like Barbour and be cool if Romney changes his mind and agrees with the President? We doubt it.

In the end, the GOP is still trying to come to peace with immigration. On one side, you have the neo-nativists who want EVERYONE deported (even some US Latino citizens from the emails we get all the time), while on the other hand, you have people like Barbour, Jeb Bush, and others who understand that this issue is so complex and central to how we act as a nation of the 21st century. Rubio is in a tough place because he knows that siding with a Barbour or a Jeb Bush is the right thing to do, but he also knows that part of his base would say he is for, gasp, AMNESTY! (Cue doom music here.)

And as for Romney? Good luck with getting 25% of the US Latino vote. Romney lacks the courage and cojones to tell part of his base that true comprehensive immigration reform IS the right thing for the United States. President Obama is going to be given another chance on immigration because Romney failed to capitalize on this moment. And that is why his answer and reaction to all this is so lame. Romney was blindsided yesterday and when you are blindsided, it is hard to come back and control the immigration message again, whatever that message is for the GOP now.

Finally, for those who think that immigration does not matter to US Latino voters. Just watch some Spanish-language TV this week and read the front pages of some papers. It still matters, and President Obama finally realized that, and seeing this is as a last attempt to win US Latino voters over again, he very likely did. Too bad Romney missed his chance.