As soon as the Republican wave rolled ashore in the 2014 elections, people started asking what effect their victory would have on President Obama’s plan to impose amnesty for illegal aliens through executive orders. I thought the political calculus had shifted enough to make Democrats nervous about pushing ahead with the scheme, so they would try to talk Obama out of it. Recent events make it seem likely he’ll do it, but there are a few signs of that Democrat reluctance lingering. The President really wants to do this, and I suspect his people are making an aggressive case to Party leaders that another bad election in 2016 would be a modest price to pay for the permanent restructuring of the American electorate to Democrats’ liking… but not all of them are completely sold on the deal.
Yesterday I wondered if the congressional “power of the purse” could possibly be enough to make Obama pass up on this brass ring, especially since he’s confident any budgetary showdown would ultimately end with a shutdown drama Republicans are guaranteed to lose, no matter how loudly they declare they don’t want the government to be shut down, or how little the allegedly disastrous shutdown drama from last year seems to have injured them in the midterm elections. It seems pretty well established that budget tools are the only meaningful protection from executive overreach left to the legislature; impeachment is a dead letter, King Barack I simply ignores or rewrites laws he dislikes, and the lawsuit planned by House Republicans never got off the ground. Is funding also a nominal power that has become virtually useless in practice, at least for anything the President really wants, because it’s always guaranteed to end with the White House and congressional leadership holding a staring contest over the “government shutdown” dynamite plunger?
Some unexpected support for the Republicans’ defunding strategy came from retiring Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who told National Review that holding back the funds for presidential initiatives “happens all the time.” Levin elaborated, “That’s not uncommon that there’s amendments saying ‘none of the funds in this appropriation bill may be spent for’ – fill in the blank.”
Of course it’s not an uncommon tactic; one does not need to have occupied Congress for as long as Levin to understand that. But the White House defensive strategy will be to portray Republican exercise of the power of the purse as an unprecedented assault on executive power, and a unique gesture of personal disrespect toward Barack Obama. That effort will not be helped by senior members of the lame-duck caucus accurately noting that it’s not unusual at all.
As for that long-dormant Republican lawsuit against Obama for abusing his powers, it suddenly emerged from its cocoon on Tuesday as a monarch butterfly, with none other than renegade liberal law professor Jonathan Turley riding it into battle, gripping the lance of the Constitution. The Wall Street Journal reports that House Speaker John Boehner has hired Turley as an attorney to press their case:
A spokesman for Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio) said Mr. Turley was a ???natural choice??? to handle the lawsuit, which has yet to be filed amid frequent changes in representation since first being authorized by the House of Representatives in July. Mr. Boehner told reporters Tuesday he expects the suit to be filed ???soon,??? but declined to give a specific timeline.
???Professor Turley is a renowned legal scholar who agrees that President Obama has clearly overstepped his Constitutional authority,??? spokesman Michael Steel said.
Mr. Turley is well known in Washington legal circles, frequently testifying on Capitol Hill and appearing on television to discuss legal issues. He previously represented U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous in his impeachment trial, as well as challenged U.S. involvement in Libya on behalf of a number of U.S. lawmakers.
He has previously raised concerns about the issue of executive overreach and the Obama administration. At a House hearing last December, he said Mr. Obama was ???becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid, that is, the concentration of powers in any single branch.???
In a move that helps Republicans so much that it almost qualifies as bipartisanship, the dwindling band of House Democrats re-elected Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader today, and her office wasted no time dumping on Turley:
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said the hiring of another attorney to pursue the lawsuit is the latest ???distraction and dysfunction??? from Republican leaders.
???Even for $500-per-hour in taxpayer dollars, Speaker Boehner has had to scour Washington to find a lawyer willing to file this meritless lawsuit against the president,??? spokesman Drew Hammill said.
Frankly, I have a hard time taking this suit seriously as a legal instrument – it’s a very serious issue, and whatever his other ideological leanings might be, Turley is an eloquent defender of the separation of powers, but now that we’ve reached the Never-Never Land where the legislative branch has to sue the President to keep him from wiping his shoes with the Constitution, I have a hard time envisioning this grim fairy tale ending with a judge rapping his gavel and taking Obama’s royal scepter away.
The real political essence of Obama is the Alinskyite attacker of the system, throwing aside all the polite understandings of American governance to ask, “What actually stops me from doing this… or this… or this?” He also knows the comforting popular notion of electoral defeat as a check on power is pure fantasy – there are some power grabs well worth a ballot-box thrashing or two, and those thrashings only seem inevitable in retrospect; in the moment, it’s always easy to imagine ways that the wrath of the voters can be redirected or dissipated, a year or two in the future. A court action might provide plenty of media coverage and some teachable moments – which would make it something other than a complete waste of time – but even if it succeeds, it will take so long that it amounts to chastising Obama on his way out the door. Irreversible mailed-fist political gains today are always worth the possibility of a wet-noodle flogging tomorrow.
However, in other news from the legal front, Obama’s fellow Democrats are having a lot of trouble coming up with a legal rationale for the executive orders he plans to issue. Not even on such a friendly stage as MSNBC could far-left Rep. Peter Welch come up with a plausible legal authority to justify Obama’s proposed actions, and it clearly bothered host Lawrence O’Donnell that nobody at the White House could provide one, either:
There is no reasonable interpretation of the Constitution that gives the executive unilateral power to rewrite, or destroy, America’s immigration system, and no logical circumstance under which such powers would be necessary to defend the national interest. Immigration law is a matter for the legislature to decide, expressing the sense of the American people. Anyone who thinks the borders should be thrown open is welcome to make that case before Congress, which can certainly write laws to that effect. Only by denying that the American people and their representatives have any right to set the parameters for immigration can one reach the conclusion that an imperial potentate should determine them by fiat.
Although yesterday brought news of a letter from the Democrat leadership urging Obama to strip them of their constitutional authority and proceed with executive orders on amnesty at once, today The Hill reports that some other Democrats want him to wait… even though they’re surely aware of how a delay would enrage all those activists Obama gave quiet assurances before the election:
President Obama has a tough decision to make on the timing of an executive order to freeze deportations of illegal immigrants.
Senate Democrats want him to wait to give them time to pass an omnibus spending bill and other legislative priorities in the lame-duck session that is just now ramping up.
But delaying the action, even for a few weeks, could make Obama look weak and inflame immigration advocates who are already furious with him for holding back until after the midterm elections.
???You have growing anxiety amongst the immigrant community that???s losing faith that the president is going to do as he said he would do,??? said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. ???I really think he???ll lose support from the Latino community if he continues to wait.???
Complicating the situation further, Obama is being asked to do a favor for Democratic lawmakers at a time when they are casting blame on him for the party???s disastrous showing at the ballot box.
One of the sharpest blows came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid???s (D-Nev.) chief of staff, who excoriated Obama in a story published almost immediately after Democrats lost the Senate.
That’s funny, because Reid is one of the signatories to the letter urging Obama to pull the trigger on immigration right now. I gather what the Hill is driving at is a sense among the Party in general that Obama’s getting them killed, and he’s going to do it again by detonating his amnesty bomb, and while Reid’s chief of staff might be among those who gave the President a hard time over the 2014 outcome, Reid himself is ready to trade the risk of voter anger in 2016 for a move that will make current voters a bit less… significant in the years to come. His only hesitation is that he wants to get a long-term omnibus spending bill squared away first, to deprive Republicans of the budgetary power to resist Obama’s diktats.
At least, that’s what Reid says until someone asks him about amnesty in Spanish. The sheer gutlessness pandering on display here is astounding:
Reid said last week that Obama should hold off until Congress passes a bipartisan omnibus spending bill negotiated by the Senate and House Appropriations committees.
???The president has said he???s going to do the executive action. The question is when. It???s up to him,??? Reid said, according to Reuters. ???But I???d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it.???
Reid said he told the president of his preference, and the Democratic leader has made passing an omnibus a top priority of his final weeks in control of the Senate agenda.
He backed off his statement in an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language television network, Monday.
When asked about postponing executive action until after a budget vote in December, Reid said, ???I think it should be done now.???
Since it’s obvious what Democrats want, Republicans would be foolish to give it them. A year-long omnibus spending bill should be a complete non-starter, swept right off the table by Republican leaders. The only thing Democrats should get is a short-term bill to keep things running until the new Congress is seated; let them shut the government down, and spend the holidays explaining why, if they don’t like it. There’s a bit of apprehension among the Democrat caucus, balanced against stern demands from La Raza and similar groups, who intend to cash in that amnesty voucher Obama gave them when voters weren’t looking. If Republicans put the right kind of stress on that fracture, and remember what the American people gave them a Senate majority to accomplish, amnesty might not be a done deal after all.