[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE strangest thing has happened. As everyone knows, Barack Obama’s world turned upside down on Nov. 4. But then came the unexpected: The world kept spinning until, eventually, Obama somehow found himself on top.
If history is any guide, Obama may not stay there for long. But in what should be the afterglow of the Republicans’ huge midterm victory, the news instead is all about Obama. And some of it, shockingly, is even good.
The China-climate pact? Yep. All the chatter is about how Obama’s surprise agreement with the Chinese leaves the Republicans flat-footed and all but flat-earthed. Forget the I-am-not-a-scientist shtick. The Republican to watch now is Sen. Jim Inhofe, the unabashed climate denier who says the whole thing is, and I quote, a “hoax.” This is the same Inhofe who is expected to resume his chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee. I hope you’ve got cable, because C-SPAN 2 is going to be some must-see TV.
[pullquote]Obama’s so-called betrayal would end a congressional stalemate and bring 5 million people in America out of the legal shadowlands by lifting the threat of deportation. Does searching for a way to make that happen in a way lawyers assure him is constitutional really constitute a betrayal?[/pullquote]
The immigration-reform standoff? Obviously, this is about Obama. And here’s how this thing might well play out: When Obama makes his big speech on executive authority, don’t be surprised if he asks Republicans to please do the right thing and pass an immigration-reform bill that would make his reluctantly-invoked executive orders go away. And what will be the Republicans’ excuse for not doing that? Because they don’t want Obama to get a victory? I’ll leave it to Cory Gardner to judge whether that’s mature.
The vote on Keystone? Yeah, that’s about Obama, too. I don’t know if this is a winner for Obama, but it’s a loser for Mary Landrieu, who called for the vote — and got it as a favor from Harry Reid — in a desperate attempt to save her Senate seat by showing her constituents in Louisiana that she can be as much in the clutches of Big Oil as any Republican.
If Obama has to veto the bill, he’ll at least make environmentalists happy. Of course, you’d assume that when Republicans take control of the Senate next year, they’ll be able to make a deal with Obama to get the pipeline. Oh wait – that means they’d actually have to make a deal with Obama.
Look, the story here should be what Republicans plan to do next. Except that, as far as I can tell, they don’t plan to do anything next. Here’s the agenda: They’re going to stop Obama’s nominations. They’re going to vote to repeal Obamacare — or is it Grubercare? — and hope that all the Obama vetoes will be used somehow against Hillary Clinton, unless, of course, the Supreme Court gets there first. And they’re going to weigh shutting down the government — in response to Obama’s moves on immigration — while in actuality setting up the real showdown, the one between John Boehner and Ted Cruz.
In the meantime, they have Charles Krauthammer — one of the conservative wise men – on Fox talking about impeachment, just because it’s Fox. It was not impeachable, apparently, when Reagan and Bush Sr. decided to use executive authority to defer deportation for 1.5 million illegal immigrants. I guess you have to get to 5 million before it counts.
I’m no constitutional scholar (although my law professor daughter does advise me, and for free), but Ross Douthat, the very sharp New York Times conservative columnist, accuses Obama of committing a great betrayal. I’m not sure how he gets there. Let’s say that Obama’s executive orders might be an overreach. Let’s say that even though other presidents have taken similar steps, Obama’s large strides might be a step too great.
We can even go a step further. There’s an article in the Times showing how the best arguments against Obama’s position have actually been put forward by, yes, Obama himself.
Asked, for example, during a Google Hangout last year if he could more to keep immigrant families from being “broken apart,” Obama answered: “This is something that I have struggled with throughout my presidency. The problem is, is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”
Now he says that he can bypass Congress, and bypass being an emperor, by invoking prosecutorial discretion. You definitely have to agree with at least one Obama here.
But you also have to ask yourself who is doing the betraying. It was pure politics that stopped the House from voting on the Senate immigration reform bill — passed 68-to-32. This is an enforcement-first, fence-building, drone-flying, wait-10-years-for-a-green-card, back-of-the-line, pay-a-fine, English-first bill that begged Republicans to vote for it. If you didn’t vote for it, you had to believe either that, as Mitt Romney put it, the 11 million immigrants here illegally would self-deport or the U.S. government was prepared go into full human-roundup mode. Let’s call it immigration-denial.
You can argue motives. Certainly, the Democrats have made promises to Latino voters that they haven’t kept. But for Obama, who doesn’t have any more elections, this has to be about legacy and maybe even about doing the right thing. Obama’s so-called betrayal would mean removing 5 million people from fear. Does searching for a way to make that happen — in such a way that the lawyers assure him is constitutional — really constitute a betrayal?
What’s clear is that, in terms of politics and of plain old justice, Boehner and company should have put the immigration issue behind them a year ago. Instead, they put Obama in position for history, not to mention most Latino voters, to judge him the winner.