The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Kathleen Hennessey, Lisa Mascaro, and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is suggesting that he will defer his self-imposed deadline for announcing an expected change in immigration policy, as the White House wrestles with the political and legal dilemmas involved in making significant alterations without congressional approval.

Fed up with congressional gridlock, the president has said he’ll use his executive power to make changes. One proposal under discussion would delay a decision on the more sweeping and controversial changes under consideration until after the November midterm election, according to a White House official familiar with the discussions.

Under that plan, the president would first announce measures aimed at tightening enforcement of current law, then put off until the end of the year a decision on a more sweeping program that could temporarily shield millions of immigrants from deportation.

The two-step plan would bow to the concerns of Democratic lawmakers running in Republican-leaning states who have expressed opposition to Obama’s plans to act unilaterally on the hot-button issue. Some Democratic senators have said he should wait for Congress to pass legislation.

And some Democratic strategists fret that the move would spark opposition among Republicans and energize the GOP base just weeks before the midterm election. The GOP is expected to maintain its House majority and needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

Aides say the president has not made a decision on precise actions or timing. The official familiar with the talks, who would not be identified discussing internal deliberations, said the two-step proposal was one of several on the table.

At a White House news conference on Thursday, the president hinted that he may need more time than expected.

Obama declared in June that he was fed up with lawmakers’ deadlock on immigration legislation and ordered Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson to recommend a series of changes that did not require lawmakers’ approval.

Obama said he expected the recommendations “before the end of summer” and intended “to adopt those recommendations without further delay.”

He has not yet received Johnson’s review.

On Thursday, Obama reiterated his plans to take some action, but did not repeat his deadline.

Instead, Obama noted that a recent surge of unaccompanied minors turning themselves in at the border appears to have subsided. The crisis had consumed headlines for much of the summer, adding to Democrats’ worry that public support for easing the path to citizenship for those in this country illegally could slip.

Obama said Thursday that the crisis “changed the perception of the American people about what’s happening at the borders,” and argued that it demonstrated the need for changes. The situation also demanded his administration’s attention and resources, he said.

“Some of these things do affect timelines and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done,” Obama said at the news conference. “But have no doubt: In the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.”

White House officials say the president wants to enact broad changes, including a program modeled on one he established in 2012 for so-called Dreamers — those illegally brought to the United States as children who have met other qualifications, such as a high school diploma or military service.

The new program could protect some groups of immigrants — such as those who have deep roots in the United States or who have children living in the United States legally, for example — from deportation.

Delaying that action until after November could give lawmakers more time to find consensus on immigration. Although few on the Hill think that is likely, Obama said he had not closed the door.

“Hope springs eternal,” he said Thursday.

A delay is far more likely to frustrate immigration advocates who have been pushing Obama to act — and who are expecting the announcement soon.

Complicating Obama’s deliberations is the budget fight awaiting lawmakers when they return from their August recess early next month.

Congress must pass legislation to fund the government in the upcoming fiscal year by Sept. 30, when the current law expires. Key conservatives have warned that Republicans may try to stop the president’s actions by attaching prohibitions to the spending bill.

Such a move could resemble last fall’s 16-day government shutdown, when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to undo Obama’s landmark health care law.

Some Democrats have welcomed the shutdown scenario as an opportunity to portray the Republicans in Congress as extremists, particularly on immigration — an issue especially important to Latino voters. But others have suggested that such a fight could damage both parties as voters have grown weary of crisis politics in Washington.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

Interested in U.S. politics? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

Keep reading... Show less

Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}