Last December, after the mid-term shellacking that cost Democrats the Senate by a margin unexpected, not only Republicans, but even smart-set liberal wonks such as Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias were counseling the president to cease and desist on his executive order on immigration or, at the very least, water it down.
Openly ridiculing White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest who said that President Obama would go forward with
his executive action, Klein scoffed "But…really?…"Republicans just won overwhelming victories in the House, the Senate and the states, but Obama is going to go ahead and announce a major executive action all of them disagree with? At this point, if the action happens at all, my guess is it will be a lot smaller than supporters are expecting."
However, I argued that this was poor political advise regardless of where one stood on the issue of broader immigration reform. I advised the president that the smart thing to do would be to stick to his guns and go big. Not only is mass deferral of deportation for undocumented workers well within the vast prosecutorial discretion that Congress itself granted him in the 1986 Immigration and Naturalization Act, I have repeatedly pointed out, but it would also be smart politics. That's because, unlike in the mid-term, many more Latino swing states would be in play in the 2016 elections. Moreover, I noted, the more Republicans resisted his executive action, the more they would cement their reputation as anti-minority, something that would hurt them over the long run when whites become a plurality in this country. More immediately, however, I predicted, it would produce a civil war within the restrictionist and the moderate wings of the Republican party, causing it to self destruct.
President Obama took this advice and deferred deportation against four million unauthorized foreigners with American family or close community ties and no criminal record. And look what has happened since.
Last month, the GOP leadership convinced restrictionists to temporarily hold their fire and pass a Cromnibus spending bill that would fund all federal departments till the end of fiscal 2015, except for DHS, which would be funded only till the end of this month. The plan was to use DHS funding as leverage to get Democrats – and the president – to back off on the so-called "executive amnesty" (their exaggerated term for a three-year reprieve from deportation that does not even offer a path to legalization let alone citizenship) while avoiding a repeat performance of the 2013 government shutdown that splashed so much egg on the GOP's face.
So how's it working out?
Well, this week, for three days in a row, ultra-restrictionists in the Senate such as Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions — aided and abetted by the hapless majority leader Mitch McConnell — demanded a procedural vote to debate a bill that would fund the DHS till the end of the year while stripping funding for all of Obama's immigration executive actions dating back to 2011, including DACA — his suspension of deferment proceedings against the so-called DREAMers who were brought here illegally as kids.
And for three days in a row, Democrats — using the filibuster rules that the Ezra Klein had advised them to kill when they held the Senate majority — prevented the vote from going ahead.
It is abundantly clear at this point that Republicans aren't going to break through the Democratic wall as they had hoped. Smearing them with accusations of "amnesty" is not going to cause the American public to rise in an uproar, ring their elected representatives deaf, and demand that they support the restrictionists against their own president.
So it is very likely that the DHS —which is in charge not only of deportations but also border patrol and airport security etc. — is headed for a shutdown. (Both chambers of Congress headed home Thursday without a resolution. And with a brief recess scheduled for the week of Presidents Day, Congress has only eight working days left before DHS funding runs out.)
Restrictionists — the self-appointed champions of border security — are minimizing the seriousness of this by arguing that most of DHS functions are considered essential and therefore employees will have to report to work, regardless of whether they get paid or not. But that line is likely to stick only till the first news reports of border patrol agents unable to buy medicines for their sick children hit the stands.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, has tried to work out a compromise that'll defund only the president's latest executive action while keeping DACA intact. But neither Democrats nor GOP restrictionists are going for that.
With no end game in sight and no way out of the GOP's own self-created box, what's happening? "A GOP Meltdown," as an International Business Times headline blared.
The moderate wing led by Arizona's Sen. John McCain (who else?) has declared the GOP strategy as the very "definition of insanity." Yet if he — and his moderate counterparts in the House — try and prod the GOP leadership to offer a clean DHS funding bill that leaves Obama's executive action unmolested, the leadership might well risk a restrictionist revolt that it might well not be able to weather.
Meanwhile, what is President Obama doing? Watching the show and ROTFLHAO (and thanking his lucky stars that he ignored the smart, young Turks on his side and listened to his libertarian detractors instead).
And who can blame him?