WASHINGTON — President Obama’s administration was coming apart at the seams this week on several domestic and foreign policy fronts that have drawn criticism from his earliest supporters.
In the past week, a federal judge temporarily blocked his attempt to circumvent the sole legislative authority of Congress on immigration law; Russia moved closer to seizing eastern Ukraine as Obama turned a deaf ear to its cries for weapons to defend itself; and Obamacare faces a new political backlash as millions of uninsured Americans are about to be slapped with a tax penalty for not obeying its mandates.
Facing a Republican-controlled Congress in the last two years of his presidency, which will kill any chances of passing his remaining agenda, Obama embarked on a legally risky strategy to govern by executive actions alone.
But earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Texas ruled that Obama’s unilateral changes in federal immigration law will be put on hold until a lawsuit filed by 26 states who oppose his actions is decided.
Although the judge did not rule on the merits of the case, he argued that there was sufficient justification to suspend Obama’s pending legalization of an estimated 5 million immigrants until the lawsuit is fully litigated.
Obama’s rash attempt to circumvent the GOP-controlled Congress would allow the children of illegal immigrants to apply for legal status to work in the United States and prevent their deportation.
In addition to Obama’s attempt to rewrite immigration laws by the stroke of a pen, two other initiatives of his were also tied up in the courts: his unpopular health care law, and climate-change rules to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.
The health care issue, now before the Supreme Court, will deal with the question of whether Americans who have purchased health care plans on federal exchanges should be entitled to government subsidies.
If the high court should rule against Obama in the case, it could deal a mortal blow to the financial underpinnings of his health care program, handing Republicans a major victory in their efforts to repeal it.
The legal battle over immigration was likely headed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. But GOP leaders in Congress were also considering their own lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the president’s actions.
Thus, several of Obama’s major executive actions in domestic policy were now before the federal courts, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter.
“The court is deciding just about every major question that divides Americans along ideological lines,” says Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center.
Lurking in the background is another explosive political test for the president’s health care law that hasn’t gotten wide attention yet: the tax penalties that are embedded in Obamacare for not purchasing health care coverage.
According to the administration’s own projections, as many as 6 million Americans who did not have health insurance in 2014 will have to pay a penalty of $95, or 1 percent of their family income.
Health care experts say that most uninsured Americans were not aware of the coming penalty, but will be shocked to learn of it when they file their tax returns.
While many won’t be taxed if they qualify for hardship exemptions, many other wage-strapped Americans will be, even though they’re having a hard time making ends meet in Obama’s anemic economy.
In foreign policy, Obama will go down in history for presiding over the worst human rights debacle since the end of the Cold War in Russia’s military seizure of eastern Ukraine.
Since last year, the Ukrainian government has pleaded for the U.S. to give it the weapons needed to turn back the Russian invasion of this sovereign country. But Obama did not lift a finger militarily to help a people Vladimir Putin has long targeted for annexation in his dreams of rebuilding a Greater Russia.
Of course, European leaders didn’t help either, entering into a phony cease-fire agreement with Putin that had all of the hallmarks of another “Munich.” The plan allowed the Russian dictator continued control of the territory he had seized. Then, this week, he took control of more territory, with Russian troops and separatists fighting side by side against poorly equipped Ukraine forces.
A little more than a week ago, Obama said he was still considering Ukraine’s growing pleas for weapons, but he did nothing. Instead, he naively hoped for “a diplomatic solution” with Putin, who knew he had nothing to fear from Obama’s impotent sanctions.
Even the arch-liberal Washington Post, one of Obama’s earliest supporters, expressed disgust at the way he had turned his back on the crisis.
Obama had “frequently boasted of leading a collective U.S.-European response. But he stood back last week” as France and Germany “negotiated the give-away of eastern Ukraine to Mr. Putin,” the Post said in a critical editorial rebuking Obama’s “strategic patience.”
Perhaps the most cogent analysis of the shameful way the president has handled this crisis, as well as the rise of global terrorism, was delivered by Jeb Bush in a strong foreign policy speech Wednesday to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
“Our words and actions must match so that the entire world knows that we say what we mean and mean what we say. There should be no gap there. This administration talks, but the words fade. They draw red lines and then erase them. With grandiosity, they announce resets and then disengage,” Bush said.
“America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world — our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places,” he said.
Tragically, in Ukraine’s bleakest hour, they asked only that we give them the weapons to defend themselves as a free people. Ignoring their pleas for help will forever stain Obama’s hopelessly disengaged presidency.