Monday, June 22, 2009

More Sausage Making

It's clear that President Obama is working hard on some very difficult issues, the two most important of which are the economy and health care reform. He's also trying to close Guantanamo Bay by finding new homes for the wrongfully detained, and he's facing foreign policy crises he hadn't counted on in Afghanistan (the deaths of civilians in air strikes) and in Iran (where the current seeming instability hadn't been foreseen). It isn't surprising that other issues have been pushed aside because there simply isn't enough time or energy to deal with them. At least, that's the official excuse for not addressing them. The calculus, however, is a bit more complicated than that.

Immigration reform is one issue that will no doubt be as contentious as health care reform. Although the president is giving a nod to it this week, it appears that's about all he is willing to do at the present time, according to this Los Angeles Times article.

Lawmakers will gather at the White House next week for a working session on immigration reform, a meeting that has been highly anticipated by Latino leaders eager for President Obama to honor his campaign promise to put millions of undocumented workers on a "pathway to citizenship." But many Democrats are now concluding that they may well not have the muscle to pass such a controversial measure -- at least not immediately, and possibly not until after the 2010 midterm election.

And even though Obama used a Latino prayer breakfast Friday morning to reiterate his intention to pass some sort of new immigration plan during his presidency, next week's gathering demonstrates how the White House and congressional leaders are trying to strike a careful balance. They are seeking to assuage Latino voters, who are a key constituency, while avoiding specific promises on timing and substance, and while trying not to antagonize independent voters who may have a skeptical view of legalization plans. ...

The White House has downplayed expectations for next week's meeting. According to Latino lawmakers who met with Obama this spring, the president had indicated that he would host a summit with lawmakers and advocacy groups, just as he did with healthcare leaders when he kicked off the debate on that front-burner issue. Instead, the immigration event will be small and private and will include only House and Senate members involved in the immigration debate.

Moreover, the White House is careful to point out that Obama wants to merely begin the debate this year. He is not promising that a plan will be passed this year, although in his campaign he said he would make the issue "a top priority in my first year as president."

Elections do indeed have consequences. Unfortunately in this case, it is the next election and the one after that which the president has chosen to focus on, rather than the one which swept him and the Democratic majority into office. What is so disturbing about the basis for the White House decision is that the imagined resistance is not as deep as the politicos believe:

[Pollster Stanley] Greenberg produced new swing-district polling last summer to counter his earlier surveys -- this time reporting that "a policy and message that focuses on requiring illegal immigrants to become legal expands the Democratic advantage on the immigration issue." He said that pushing a "legal status requirement" is more popular than simply talking about border enforcement.

Even after the polling information was released, however, the president and his staff have decided it would be "safer" to defer the issue. The new time line is an interesting one:

Some strategists believe the most likely time to press the issue will be in 2011, when Obama, once again needing Latino votes to win states such as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and perhaps to compete in Texas and Arizona, will be most motivated to lobby nervous Democrats on behalf of a legalization plan.

And that, my friends, is how sausage is made in the nation's capital.

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Anonymous elbrucce said...

I'm not anti-immigrant, and it's unlikely that my job will be taken by an immigrant (unless it's an H1-B), but with the official unemployment rate at 10% and rising (and the unofficial rates much higher), not is probably not the best time to try to "fix" the "immigration problem."

5:50 PM  

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