The battle we are now witnessing between the president and the Republicans in Congress over immigration is a strange one. It is strange because both sides have forgotten how they have acted during the past six years toward each other and only see the slights and attacks from the other side.
President Obama, stung by the midterm congressional election race losses, is unwilling to accept his defeat easily, just as the Republicans refused to accept their 2012 presidential loss. The Republicans are gloating over their recent congressional victories, just as Obama gloated over trouncing the Republicans in 2012, feeling he had a mandate.
The Republicans have forgotten their low approval ratings especially among the young and minorities, and their previous six years of obstructionism toward the president and his policies. The immigration issue brings the past six years of rancor and ill will to center stage.
Even as President Obama stressed his solutions to immigration in his recent speech, he knows his initiatives will anger Republicans but he doesn’t feel it will make any difference. He doesn’t trust them to act for the good of the poor and middle class or treat him with respect. They’ve hated him from the beginning of his first term. Nothing is going to change that attitude. Relationships between the president and the Republicans in Congress will only get worse, not better.
The Republicans, feeling victorious, now expect the president to forget their past actions and words toward him. Sen. John McCain, in a Nov. 6 MSNBC broadcast, summed up their attitude quite clearly by pleading with the president to wait on immigration until they take control of Congress in January: “We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate,” he said. “Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.”
President Obama probably is thinking that when only 40 percent of the eligible electorate voted in early November, the word “mandate” does not seem valid.
He thinks back 16 months, to the immigration bill passed by a bipartisan Senate, and remembers how the Republican-controlled House refused to allow the bill to even be voted on, knowing full well that if that were allowed, it would have passed with Democratic and moderate Republican support. He thinks to himself, “Why should I wait any longer?”
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney had an explanation for the Republican refusal to pass immigration reform then in a Nov. 2, 2014, CNN interview: “I think the Republicans in the House were looking at what was coming up from the Senate and saying: ‘You know we can do better if we pick up some more seats in the Senate.’”
The problem with the passage of this Senate bill is that only 14 of 46 Republicans voted for it in 2013. Based upon Romney’s words, the new Republican majority in January 2015 will want a greater say than they got with the June 2013 Senate bill. Republicans know the survival of their party is at stake. Unless they pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, their chances of winning the presidency in 2016 are nil.
There are three major concerns that Republicans have, according to Romney: 1) securing the border, 2) dealing with the those illegally residing in this country, and 3) “making the immigration policies…open and transparent to the many people who want to come here legally.”
Obama’s response from his recent speech is that he’d already done their first priority: he’s nearly doubled security along the border and used drones to patrol difficult terrain. He’s deported thousands of criminals and, with his recent decision, will handle the Republicans’ No. 2 and 3 priorities until Congress gives him a bill to sign.
At that point he says he’ll tear up his executive orders.
While Republicans do not dispute the president is doing good for immigrants and the nation, they do strongly believe it’s not his job it’s theirs. Both have forgotten that their own actions and words over the past six years have poisoned the other’s well of trust.
The issue is not whether the president can carry through on his plans or whether or how the Republican-controlled Congress will retaliate. The issue is that our government is functioning as the founders intended. They designed the Constitution with the hope and expectation that there would be no love lost between the branches of government. We have seen their vision come to pass before our eyes.