President Obama Delays Immigration Action Until After November Elections
In June, President Obama pledged to use executive action to reform U.S. immigration policy by the end of summer - due to what he called "obstruction from Republican lawmakers."
Now, the president is abandoning that pledge and will instead wait until after the midterm elections in November.
According to reports, the president decided that using his executive authority to circumvent Congress would draw negative attention during an important campaign season and hurt future efforts at immigration reform.
The officials said Obama had no specific timeline to act, but that he still would take his executive steps before the end of the year.
In a Rose Garden speech on June 30, Obama said he had directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to give him recommendations for executive action by the end of summer. Obama also pledged to "adopt those recommendations without further delay."
Many conservatives and other Obama critics though Obama would act while Congress was on August break.
But White House aides repeated said in the weeks before Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, the recommendations were still forthcoming, which created speculation that Obama was waiting until Sept. 21, the official end of summer.
Obama faced competing pressures from immigration advocacy groups that wanted prompt action and from Democrats worried that acting now would energize Republican opposition against vulnerable Senate Democrats. Among those considered most at risk were Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Republicans need to win a net total of six seats to take control of the Senate.
Obama advisers were not convinced that any presidential action would affect the elections. But the officials said the discussions around the timing grew more pronounced within the past few weeks.
Ultimately, the advisers drew a lesson from 1994 when Democratic losses were blamed on votes for gun control legislation, undermining any interest in passing future gun measures.
White House officials said aides realized that if Obama's immigration action was deemed responsible for Democratic losses this year, it could hurt any attempt to pass a broad overhaul later.
The Democrat-controlled Senate has passed comprehensive immigration-reform legislation, largely on what to do about the roughly 11 million people now living illegally in the United States.
However, the Republican-control House has delay such a vote, in large part over concerns about first securing the southern U.S. border.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, informed Obama earlier this year that the House would not act in 2014. That led Obama to declare he would act on his own.
In recent months, partisan fighting erupted over how to address the increased flow of unaccompanied minors from Central America at the U.S. border with Mexico. The officials said the White House had not envisioned such a battle when Obama made his pledge June 30.
Obama asked for $3.7 billion to address the border crisis. The House, however, passed a measure that gave Obama only a fraction of what he sought and made it easier to deport the young migrants arriving at the border, a provision opposed by Democrats and immigration advocates. In the end, Congress adjourned without a final bill.
The number of minors caught alone illegally crossing the Mexican border into the United States has been declining since June. That decrease and Congress' absence from Washington during August has taken attention away from the border for now.
Still, the dispute over how to deal with the surge of Central American border crossers threatened to spill over into the larger debate over immigration and the fate of the millions of immigrants in the United States who either entered illegally or overstayed their visas and have been in the U.S. for some time.
During a news conference Friday in Wales, Obama reiterated his determination to act on his own even as he avoided making a commitment on timing. He also spelled out ambitious objectives for his executive actions.
Obama said that without legislation from Congress, he would take steps to increase border security, upgrade the processing of border crossers and encourage legal immigration. He also said he would offer immigrants who have been illegally in the United States for some time a way to become legal residents, pay taxes, pay a fine and learn English.
"I want to be very clear: My intention is, in the absence of ... action by Congress, I'm going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office, because it's the right thing to do for the country," he said.
Ford O'Connell and Emily Tisch Sussman joined Eric Shawn on America's News Headquarters to discuss how this delay will impact both parties at the midterms.
"The bottom line is King Obama decided to hold off because he knew that if he pushed any executive action rooted in amnesty, he'd be handing the Senate in 2014 to the Republicans," O'Connell explained.
"He likes to play election games, and that's all that's going on here."
Tisch Sussman said it was simply not a prudent time for the president to raise a highly politicized issue that might help motivate and galvanize the opposition.
O'Connell asserted that there is no signature issue for the 2014 election, and any potential action taken to establish amnesty for illegal immigrants could quickly become that issue.
"This wouldn't just give the Republicans the Senate, it would open the floodgates," O'Connell said.
Watch the clip from America's News Headquarters above.