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Three Things to Consider About the Politics of Executive Action on Immigration

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With observers trying to assess the political implications of President Obama taking executive action on immigration, here are three things to consider:

  • Republicans will overreact and overreach, triggering a focus on a government shutdown and a push toward impeachment: As a range of stories highlighted yesterday, Republicans are already gearing up for potential executive action, and not with “the discipline” called for by Republican pollster David Winston.  Yesterday, both anti-immigrant ringleader Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and former Republican “savior” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) made news for floating the possibility of a government shutdown over executive action.  In addition, King – who is the only Republican to win House floor votes on immigration in this Congress – has invoked the “I” word with respect to Obama’s expected executive action on immigration.  An election that once seemed destined to focus on the declining popularity of the President might end up being an election that focuses on the unpopularity of Republicans in Congress.
  • The exact political effects on 2014 Senate are uncertain: While multiple stories have highlighted how some red state Democratic Senators are wary about how executive action will play in their 2014 re-election races, it is far from certain that an Obama move on immigration will become a defining issue in Senate races where Democrats are vulnerable – other than in Colorado, and in a positive way.  Meanwhile, some Republican strategists are also worried about what executive action – and the Republican overreach – will mean for their party’s midterm prospects.  As Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa write in the Washington Post, “Senior Republicans, meanwhile, have their own worries about a ‘September surprise’ on immigration.  They know their volatile party’s tendency to erupt at such moments — including government shutdowns and impeachment threats — and that the GOP brand is even more tattered than the Democratic one.  A conservative uprising against the administration would pose little risk for safely entrenched Republicans in the GOP-controlled House.  But any move toward impeachment hearings against Obama or another government shutdown would cause serious problems for Republicans in key Senate races.  They must appeal to independents who already are suspicious about the party’s ability to govern.” As Rick Klein, political director of ABC News, wrote, “The issue brings long-term demographic forces into collision with short-term political urgencies, with countless pressure points along the way.”
  • The politics for 2016 and beyond are much more certain – and put in question the future of the Republican Party: Remarkably, and as if the 2012 election did not happen, a range of potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders have moved decidedly to the right of Romney in recent weeks (see Greg Sargent’s take on Marco Rubio’s recent moves).  But the 2016 political problems for the Republicans go beyond their difficulty in capturing the White House.  If they cement their brand as the party hostile to Latinos, Asian-Americans and immigrants, they will not only forfeit a meaningful chance to re-take the White House, they may usher in a Democratically controlled filibuster-proof Senate to boot.  In 2016, Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats, while Democrats will be defending only 10 seats.  As election prognosticator Kyle Kondik recently wrote in Politico, “Of the nine Senate Republicans who represent states Obama took in 2012, seven will be on the ballot in 2016.”  And in a presidential election year, in which the voting population swells by a third and the numbers of Latino, Asian-American, immigrant and youth voters increase, 2016 could well be a wave election that gives the Democrats a shot at retaking the House as well.