Obama in the Rose Garden 30 June 2014
President Obama in the Rose Garden on June 30, 2014, declaring that he would take executive action on immigration at the end of the summer

Don't you just hate it when you have a president who thinks twice before taking action?

| On June 30, President Obama stood in the Rose Garden and declared that if Congress did not act to fix our broken immigration system, he would do what he could on his own.

I have also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can. If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.

WhiteHouse.gov

On September 5, President Obama held a press conference at the NATO summit in Wales and was asked about his plans to take executive action on immigration and the possibility of delay:

Jeh Johnson and Eric Holder have begun to provide me some of their proposals and recommendations. I’ll be reviewing them. And my expectation is that fairly soon I’ll be considering what the next steps are....

So I suspect that on my flight back this will be part of my reading, taking a look at some of the specifics that we’ve looked at. And I’ll be making an announcement soon.

But 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.

WhiteHouse.gov

Turns out "soon" meant "tomorrow morning."

A short time ago, the New York Times reported that White House officials now say that "President Obama has delayed action to reshape the nation’s immigration system without congressional approval until after the November elections, bowing to the concerns of Senate Democrats on the ballots" (NYTimes). "Because of the Republicans’ extreme politicization of this issue, the president believes it would be harmful to the policy itself and to the long-term prospects for comprehensive immigration reform to announce administrative action before the elections," a White House official said.

This is not going to end well.

Once again Obama painted himself into a corner where he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

If he had decided to go ahead at this time, he would have stirred up the Republican base who are already convinced Obama is some sort of king or dictator for taking executive action. The right-wing noise machine would have excoriated him for the next two months for abusing his power. And in a mid-term election it is those who are most riled up who are most likely to vote. Executive action at this time would likely imperil control of the Senate.

By deciding to wait, he disappoints activists who have been pressing for action, particularly Latinos, the group most affected. At the same time, however, he has given the Republicans yet another line of attack. They will say he made the decision to delay for political reasons (true enough), that he's weak, that he's a flip-flopper, that he's indecisive, that you can't believe what he says when he draws "red lines." Now they will say he was for taking executive action before he was against it (a tactic that worked exceedingly well against John Kerry during his presidential campaign). They will be confirmed in the belief that by loud opposition they have won and be emboldened to continue.

Granted, a lot has happened since June 30 that should make a president think twice about deliberately rocking the boat: the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ISIS beheadings, NATO's timorousness. He's going to need Congressional approval to take action against ISIS and getting it would be so much harder after infuriating the Republicans even more. In politics as in life, you do have to pick your battles carefully.

I view this as a self-inflicted wound. One inviolable rule for someone in authority — whether as a parent, a boss, or a president — is to never make a threat that you are not willing to carry out. It's not as if the November elections are a surprise. Obama should have taken this into account before he laid down the gauntlet, and if his staff were any good, they should have walked him through the different scenarios that could unfold. This was entirely foreseeable.

It's not surprising that Obama's approval ratings are sinking. The American people do not handle nuance well, and Obama is all about nuance and deliberation. It's not surprising that some Democrats do not want Obama to appear in their state or district; they, too, can't count on him. Thus, they are tepid in their support of major accomplishments, such as the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare").

Teddy Roosevelt's philosophy was to speak softly but carry a big stick. Obama needs to work on the big stick part.

Mind, it is wonderful to have a president not taken to saying things like "Bring it on" or "Wanted dead or alive" or "Mission accomplished." It's reassuring to know that the president is willing to change his mind when the situation changes. But frankly whoever is in charge of "messaging" and "communication" at the White House needs to be fired.

And while I'm making a wish list, it would be terrific to have Democrats who are not afraid of their own shadows.

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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