As President Obama gets ready to unveil his unilateral moves on immigration, worried voices are being raised all across the political spectrum. It might be easy for the Obama Administration to dismiss the very smart criticisms of someone like David Frum as more partisan sniping, despite the fact that Frum is one of the most moderate Republicans in existence. But can they ignore it when the New York Times starts echoing many of Frum’s points?
White House officials said the House speaker, John A. Boehner, made it clear that Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress next year, have no intention of passing a bill that the president could agree with. They note that Mr. Obama delayed any executive action throughout 2013 and 2014, hoping that Mr. Boehner would allow a vote in the House on a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate.
When that did not happen by the summer, officials said, Mr. Obama decided he should act on his own.
That decision puts the president in a different public posture from the one he offered in numerous interviews and speeches since 2010. In those settings, Mr. Obama was repeatedly urged to act on his own to reduce the number of families that were being separated by deportations. He rejected that idea and urged people to pressure Republicans in Congress to pass a bill.
In an immigration speech in San Francisco last November, protesters repeatedly interrupted the president, yelling, “Stop deportations!” Mr. Obama told the protesters that he respected their “passion,” but insisted that only Congress had the authority to do what they wanted.
“The easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws,” he said. “And what I’m proposing is the harder path.”
And at a Town Hall in March of 2011, months before taking action to keep the Dreamers from being deported, Mr. Obama said the nation’s laws were clear enough “that for me to simply, through executive order, ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.”
Regardless of the consequences for immigrants, if the President takes steps that he himself has characterized as beyond his powers—as reported by a pro-Administration source like the Times—the damage to public confidence in the system and the President will be immense and very hard to repair.Whatever the president chooses to do now, he must not go beyond his earlier assertions about the limits of his authority. Any other choice would be irresponsible and ultimately immensely damaging to his party, to the political beliefs and values that he most profoundly admires, and to the country he has sworn to serve.