Nothing is less important in Washington these days than how Barack Obama's executive order on immigration will affect millions of unauthorized immigrants. Obama has turned a population roughly equal to Alabama into taxpayers who can live in America without fear of deportation, and this town yawns. All anyone really wants to talk about is whether the Republicans will completely freak out or manage to hold it together long enough for the government to function.
And by "function," no one is thinking that Congress will do anything so radical as pass laws or other things imagined as normal by the Founding Fathers. No, the nightmare scenario for Republicans is a mass of anger and confusion that could derail their plans to govern just as they got control of Congress. Put simply, the right hand doesn't know what the far-right hand is doing.
The choice is coming down to suing the President, which no one thinks will work, defunding the President's immigration executive order, which the Republican House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers says is impossible, and of course shutting down the government in some sort of a legislative tantrum. So far, Republican leaders have managed to keep impeachment off the table, but no one thinks the relative peace will last. That's how angry they are.
Perspective was the first casualty in this latest war with the President. Said the communications director of Heritage Action, "I don't think you could overstate how important it is." From this we can either infer that Obama's executive order is more important than 9/11, Pearl Harbor, and the Civil War rolled into one or that hyperbole is a bad quality to have in a communications director.
Unfortunately, hyperbole seems to be contagious in our nation's capitol. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is considered thoughtful in Texas, said the President's "executive diktat" showed Obama was "acting as a monarch." Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who like Cruz may run for president, seconded that emotion. "History will treat him unkindly on this if he thinks he can become king."
Republicans seem married to this idea that Obama is embracing his inner potentate. According to top Republicans, "Emperor Obama (Speaker John Boehner) is "abusing his power" (Sen. John Cornyn), possibly committing a felony (Rep. Mo Brooks) and inviting "anarchy." (Sen. Tom Coburn).
Imagine your cranky older uncle with a couple too many glasses of merlot in him at Thanksgiving dinner, and you get the picture. This will not go well.
The truth is pretty simple. The legislative branch writes the laws, and the executive branch decides how to implement them, the leadership equivalent of prosecutorial discretion. Republican presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush used a total of 20 executive orders on immigration. And Obama is using fewer executive orders than any president since Grover Cleveland. For a lawless monarch, Obama is awfully restrained.
Everyone knows what the smart play here for Republicans is, which is why their leaders are handing out big bottles of Shut the Hell Up juice when it comes to impeachment. Time was that George W. Bush rolled his R's, spoke of "treating Mexicans with respect when they come to our country," and got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
Lately, not so much. Mitt Romney said they could all "self-deport" themselves and got only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, prompting the Republican National Committee to offer these prescient words in their "rebranding" document:
"If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies," said the Growth and Opportunity Project.
The rebranding went on to recommend that the GOP "embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform." There's nothing stopping Republicans from saving themselves by doing that now. Otherwise, they could lose the Hispanic vote for a generation, shutting themselves out of the White House for the foreseeable future. Republicans can't stop Obama, but if they focus on passing immigration reform they just might save themselves.
© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.