Limited Relief for Les Misérables

There were no surprises. There was no executive order – this was not Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation or Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the Armed Forces once and for all – there was just an address from President Obama, not carried on network television, where he explained that he was going to adjust enforcement activities, to concentrate on sending dangerous folks back home to wherever they came from, and getting to everyone else, who really shouldn’t be here, later. That was the outrage that had everyone on the right seething. Obama was taking unilateral action to change immigration policy, changing the law all on his own without Congress – the folks who create and pass all our laws – when he was, of course, making minor adjustments to the enforcement of current immigration law, such as it is. The dispute over what this was – the work of that devious tyrant-slacker from Kenya, to end democracy as we know it here in America, or some necessary administrative steps to begin to rationalize our hopelessly confused immigration-control activities, because Congress can’t seem to pass anything about anything at all these days – will continue.

The dispute is politically useful. Republicans will whip up outrage over this bully would-be dictator that the American people foolishly elected two times, who uses our government to give stuff to people who deserve only contempt. There are votes there. Democrats get to whip up outrage over this ultimate do-nothing Congress that only says no, to everything, with no ideas of its own, and wants to stick it to the poor and the unemployed and minorities and gays, and to greedy American workers who want too much and are ruining American businesses, and now wants to stick it to these hard-working good folks without papers, because Hispanics make them uncomfortable. There are votes there too – lots of them. There’s no reason each side wouldn’t think of this as a big deal.

That’s a stretch, but maybe not:

President Obama invited as many as 5 million immigrants and international visitors Thursday to openly live and work in the U.S., a controversial, unilateral demonstration of his power that signaled a new phase of activism for the remainder of his presidency.

Without a vote from Congress, Obama set in motion a government program that, starting next year, will begin to evaluate applicants and enroll those eligible to protect them from deportation.

The majority of those affected under the executive action, about 4.1 million, could be eligible for a program that will invite parents of either U.S. citizens or long-term permanent residents to apply for a work permit and three years of protection from deportation. Applicants will have to prove they have been in the country at least five years.

This is a select group of people – fewer than half of the eleven million people living and working here without legal permission to do so – but it’s still a lot of people, and a big change. Is that outrageous? There’s an answer to that:

Wearing a solemn dark suit and repeatedly pointing his finger, Obama challenged lawmakers who doubt his authority to act.

“To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill,” he said.

In the meantime, there’s this:

Short of any legislation, the president is also ordering an expansion of a program that defers deportation of people who arrived in the U.S. as children before June 2007. By opening the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to people who immigrated as recently as 2010 and removing a cap on the age of the applicant, the directive will make roughly 300,000 more people eligible.

Obama will make other changes affecting another 600,000 people, in part by expanding and adding visas for entrepreneurs and recent graduates in science and technology.

But don’t get too excited:

In arguing that the executive action is within the bounds of the law and Constitution, its architects noted that it is temporary and revocable. It relies largely on the concept of discretion as it is exercised every day by prosecutors.

One senior Obama administration official insisted repeatedly Thursday, “It is not a pathway to citizenship.”

Congress has to decide if it wants to create that pathway. Obama can’t do that. That’s not his business, and thus this is about existing law:

The major changes will come as directives from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to his agency, not as an executive order from Obama, policy advisors to the president said. That’s in keeping with earlier actions Obama has taken on immigration.

In addition to Obama’s other changes, a new memorandum from Johnson will alter his agency’s priorities for deportation. Immigration officers will be instructed not to deport people who were convicted before 2014 of low-level immigration violations.

The priorities for deportation will be revamped to fast-track removal of suspected terrorists and people convicted of gang crimes or other serious felonies.

The second level of priority for removal will be of people with “significant” misdemeanors, multiple misdemeanors or immigration violations committed after Jan. 1, 2014.

A third level of priority will be for people who failed to abide by a removal order given after Jan. 1 and those who left the U.S. and re-entered illegally after that date.

This is about it, a matter of deciding what to do first, because it’s important to do, and then moving on down the list to less important matters, even if they are important too. It’s no more than resource allocation, and common sense:

“I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty,” Obama said. “Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.”

“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he said. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle-ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

It’s hard to see what the fuss was about, and here’s a bit of Andrew Sullivan’s assessment:

Did he make the case that a mass deferral of deportations was the only option for him? Not so effectively. His strongest point was simply the phrase: “pass a bill.” Saying he is doing this as a temporary measure, that it will be superseded as soon as a law reaches his desk, gives him a stronger position than some suppose. There is more than one actor in our system. The president and the Senate have done their part; the House has resolutely refused to do its – by failing even to take a vote on the matter. Why, many will ask, can’t the Congress come up with a compromise that would forestall and overrule this maneuver? What prevents the Republicans from acting in return to forestall this?

The question is obvious, and that was obviously planned out carefully – make the Republicans look like sour old men, bitter in their impotency. It was almost sexual. The young and dynamic and viral guy will at least get something done, and instead of being sour, he will do what they only wished they could do. At least that’s what Sullivan saw as he watched:

His early backing of even more spending on the border, his initial citing of the need for the undocumented to “get right with the law” by coming out of the shadows to pay back taxes, among other responsibilities, was a way to disarm conservative critics. It almost certainly won’t. But it remains a fact that the speech – in classic Obama style – blended conservative stringency with liberal empathy in equal parts.

That’s hard to pull off, but Obama is comfortable in what Sullivan calls the moderate middle:

Obama’s position on immigration – as on healthcare – has always been that. It’s utterly in line with his predecessor and with the Reagan era when many conservatives were eager for maximal immigration. His political isolation now is a function, first and foremost, of unrelenting Republican opposition and obstructionism. From time to time, then, it is more than good to see him openly challenge the box others want to put him in, to reassert that he has long been the reasonable figure on many of these debates, and to remind us that we have a president whose substantive proposals should, in any sane polity, be the basis for a way forward, for a compromise.

Compromise is, unfortunately, not possible these days:

This act of presidential doggedness, after so long a wait, may well inflame the divisions further. I still have doubts about the wisdom of this strategy. But I see why this president refuses to give in, to cast his future to fate, to disappoint again a constituency he has pledged to in the past, and why he is re-stating his right as president to be a prime actor rather than a passive observer in the last two years of his term. That’s who many of us voted for. And we do not believe that the election of a Republican Senate in 2014 makes his presidency moot…

The branches are designed to clash and to jostle over public policy. And the Congress has one thing it can do now that it has for so long refused to do. It can act. And it should.

And it won’t, because they’re angry, or know they’re supposed to be angry, or know that being angry is critical to their political survival, and now they’re even angrier because Obama has dared them to do what they have taken pride in not doing for six years, to pass some actual legislation. Given the rifts in their party maybe they can’t do that any longer – Ted Cruz wants one thing, shutting everything down to get Obama to stop doing whatever he’s done, and John Boehner wants another, a legacy of some sort of meaningful legislation. The situation may be hopeless, which makes them even angrier.

Obama wants something else. Peter Beinart argues here that Obama “decided once again to trigger the hatred of defenders of the status quo because, I suspect, he knows American history well enough to know that real moral progress doesn’t happen any other way.” He’s not like them:

Yes, Obama is a pragmatist. Yes, he is professorial. Yes, he wants to be liked by his ideological opponents and by the powers that be. But he also knows that were he in his twenties today – a young man of color with a foreign parent and a foreign-sounding name – he might be among those activists challenging the vicious injustice of America’s immigration system. When Obama talked about “the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” he wasn’t only comparing them to his daughters. He was comparing them to himself.

For progressives, this was always the real promise of Barack Obama. It was the promise that a black man with a Muslim name who had worked in Chicago’s ghettos – a man who had tasted what it means to a stranger in America – would bring that memory with him when he entered the White House. It’s a promise he fulfilled tonight.

How are they supposed to deal with that?

Ramesh Ponnuru isn’t that kind:

I imagine that most left-wingers will rally behind the president’s immigration policy, especially since it appears to be a minority position. But some of them will be complaining that the president didn’t go far enough. And we should take a moment to appreciate that they have a point. The moralizing language Obama used, which essentially cast attempts to enforce the immigration laws as acts of indecency, are hard to square with the limits that he set.

These were, after all, no more than administrative adjustments, and Dara Lind wonder if they can change anything:

In order for the program to be effective when it officially launches (which is expected to be in spring of 2015), people are going to have to apply. And that could be tricky. After all, these are people who’ve been living in the shadows for years – and have learned that any interaction with government officials could lead to their deportation.

The good news is that the administration and community groups have done something of a test run on the new program – via the DACA program in 2012. The push to get unauthorized immigrants to apply for DACA has created an existing infrastructure that can now be built on for the new, expanded relief programs. But in order to build on that, they’re going to need more money and more lawyers. And the government agency running the program, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, doesn’t have much money to spend on outreach.

This may not work as intended, but Byron York says it’s all political anyway:

Obama’s action is not about winning broad support now. It’s a long-term effort to increase the number of Hispanic voters, who chose Obama over Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent in 2012. If that support can be cast in cement, and the number of Hispanic voters increased even beyond current demographic trends – well, that would be very good news for the future health of the Obama coalition.

That’s cynical, but Jamelle Bouie argues that now it is not Obama who determines that:

At most, the president’s immigration order might strengthen the short-term bonds among Latinos, Asians, and the Democratic Party. More significant, I think, is the Republican reaction. If the GOP reacts to the immigration order with unhinged hysteria and anti-immigrant animus … it could further estrange itself from these groups. And that, more than anything, could shift the long-term shape of our politics.

Marc Ambinder sees what is coming:

You think you’ve heard the last of talk radio hosts bloviating about Ebola-carrying migrants sneaking across the southern border? It’s about to get much worse, and much more toxic. By singling out certain classes of undocumented immigrants, Obama puts a bullseye on the backs of those who do not qualify for documented status. Add the idea that the president is acting like a dictator and — Kaboom! The act of granting amnesty becomes even more associated with one political party.

And Paul Suderman argues here that real immigration reform just got a whole lot harder:

Unprecedented, unpopular, large-scale, unilateral policy changes are nearly certain to produce a backlash – against the president, against his party, and against the ideas at the heart of the policy change itself.

To me, this is the most significant risk of Obama’s plan – that it will create a backlash, not only amongst congressional Republicans, but within the public at large, a backlash that makes it more difficult to achieve a stable, legal, and politically viable system of expanded and simplified immigration, one that is not dependent on a sympathetic executive or enforcement discretion, but that is codified in law and agreed upon by enough of the country’s residents and legislators.

That may never happen no matter what Obama does, or who decides to oppose what he does. Eric Posner, that pesky professor at the University of Chicago Law School, sees that the real problem here is structural:

America has a huge and insatiable hunger for cheap labor – workers to mind the kids, trim the hedges, pick strawberries, and slaughter chickens. But the United States also has numerous laws that make labor expensive. These laws impose minimum wages and maximum hours, give workers the right to unionize, and protect them from unsafe conditions. They also provide welfare to those who don’t work, and many people prefer no job to a menial job. The result is that few American workers will do the really cheap labor that so many households, factories, and farms demand.

Foreigners, however, will. In Mexico, 40 million people earn less than $2,000 a year. They can migrate to the United States and earn 10 or 15 times that amount even if they work off the books. True, they cannot form unions or complain if the workplace is unsafe, but life is still better than back home. The laws that matter are the laws of supply and demand, as a result of which 11 million people reside illegally in the United States.

Many people who feel threatened by legal immigration have been able to live with this system of illegal labor. Because undocumented immigrants are denied social services, Americans don’t pay taxes to support them. Because they do menial jobs, they don’t undercut the wages of most American workers. Because they can’t vote, they can’t get these rules changed through political action.

Looking at it that way, we don’t have a “broken” immigration system at all. We have one that evolved organically that satisfies everyone, more or less. Obama is messing with a good thing, but Posner does concede that it is rather unstable:

The people who come to work here for cheap wages often settle permanently and become integrated in communities that include American citizens. They intermarry or they arrive as an American’s parent, sibling, or child. The natural sort of sympathy toward the laboring poor that animated many of the protective laws for Americans has led to political pressure to extend the laws to undocumented immigrants as well. People feel uneasy that a large group of second-class citizens resides on our soil – hence the constant drumbeat from many quarters for a pathway to citizenship.

But to give undocumented immigrants citizenship is to acknowledge that they are entitled to it, and that the “illegal immigration system” is unjust. The current system violates deeply ingrained American principles, which hold that everyone should receive equal protection of the law. That is why the obvious solution to illegal immigration – a lawful guest-worker system – is opposed by nearly everyone, but especially liberals, who see it as institutionalizing a caste system. Indeed, countries that use formal guest-worker systems – like the Persian Gulf countries – are routinely accused of exploiting and abusing migrant workers, of maintaining a caste system or even a system of de facto slavery, of violating human rights law, even though those workers benefit massively from wages much higher than they could earn at home.

That’s the problem here:

The contradiction between ideological opposition to guest workers and the huge demand for cheap foreign labor is the key to the present controversy. To avoid the appearance of a legally recognized caste system while allowing one to exist in reality, Congress has given nearly full legal rights to legal immigrants and passed tough laws to keep everyone else out – while appropriating far too little money to enforce them. This throws to the executive the task of deciding whom to enforce the laws against. Because Congress appropriates only enough money to deport 400,000 people per year out of 11 million, the president by necessity must pick and choose whom to deport. It’s no surprise that for decades every president has deported mainly criminals while leaving most everyone else alone.

Obama, then, is just doing what he can to maintain the status quo, like others before him, and this big deal announcement was nothing much:

The president’s discretion to enforce the immigration laws has always been the cornerstone of a de facto guest-worker (or, if you want, caste) system from which most Americans have greatly benefited. That’s why Republicans’ claim that the president is shredding the Constitution sounds so odd to people knowledgeable about immigration law. He’s just doing what countless Congresses have wanted him to do, and have effectively forced him to do, so that Congress itself could avoid charges that it has created a two-tier system of citizenship where the bottom tier is allowed to stay in this country and work, but is not allowed to vote, to benefit from welfare programs, to travel freely, or to enjoy the full protection of workplace laws. Of course, you might say that the whole illegal immigration system, with its two-tier system of rights, violates the Constitution or at least constitutional values, but the fault for that lies with Congress, not with the president.

That would mean nothing will change:

Obama’s action will not fix the problem of illegal immigration; nor would congressional action that created a legal pathway to citizenship. The great irony is that as undocumented aliens gain rights, they will no longer need to, or even be able to, supply menial work at a low wage. Illegal immigration will rise again, just as it did after the last path-to-citizenship-law in 1986. America’s hunger for cheap labor can’t be legislated away.

Is that cynical, or is that just the way things are? It may be both. Obama outraged the Republicans and everyone on the right, and did something vaguely heroic that will cheer Democrats and everyone on the left, but what did he really do? Well, he did make life easier for millions of families that won’t be torn apart now, which is humane and decent and comes at little cost, but there are those who think that those families deserve to be torn apart, as a matter of law – they deserve our contempt. That dispute, between common decency and firm and unambiguous law, will go on forever. There will be another Victor Hugo writing another Les Misérables, and then another and then another, but the underlying problem, as Posner states it, won’t go away. That hunger for cheap labor is the problem here. That makes doing the right thing nearly impossible. Obama did what he could. It will have to do. Now we’ll fight about it for a year or two.

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The Day Arrives

They told him not to do it, and then they told him again not to do it, and again and again, but like a dimwitted and confused teenager who sneers and defies his kindly and wise parents, he’s going to do it:

President Obama said in a video that he will lay out his proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration system Thursday and will travel to Las Vegas on the heels of that announcement to rally support for his initiative on Friday.

“Tomorrow night I’m going to be announcing here from the White House some steps I can take to start fixing our broken immigration system,” Obama said in a video posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon.

So the day has arrived. He’s going to take the law into his own hands and grant total amnesty to fourteen millions folks who are here illegally, and give them each a new car and tickets to Disneyland, and free healthcare, or he’s not. His aims seem to be more modest:

“Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken. Unfortunately Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long,” Obama said. “So what I’m going to be laying out is the things I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem.”

He’s going to adjust enforcement activities, to concentrate on sending dangerous folks back home to wherever they came from, and getting to everyone else later? The “everyone else” in this case may total only five million folks, and he’ll get to them later? That’s it? That’s not much, and none of these folks will be eligible to sign up for Obamacare either. He has deported more people-here-without-proper-papers than any other president in history – two million and counting – so he’s hardly an open-borders guy. He seems to be acting like a careful and rather boring administrator, explaining a shift in resource allocations to a bored staff in a conference room. There’s nothing very startling here:

In a blow to activists advocating on behalf of young immigrant families, there will be no guaranteed protections for the parents of so-called “Dreamers” – children protected by Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – nor for immigrant agricultural workers, said the Democrat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

What we’ll get is no more than tinkering around the edges, and the Republicans should see that as a good thing, as one of their own advocacy groups suddenly realized:

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, wrote in an e-mail that even as Obama acted on his own to break the stalemate on the issue, Republicans would still have a chance to legislate.

“While executive action is not ideal, it accomplishes four things: Stabilizes our workforce, prioritizes law enforcement, protects families and puts congressional Republicans in the driver’s seat going into 2015,” Noorani wrote. “They have an incredible opportunity to get credit for fixing America’s immigration system.”

This group used to talk about closing down the border and little else. They changed their tune. They sense that what Obama is doing is nothing much at all, leaving the field wide open for Republicans to be the heroes here, eventually. The unspoken assumption, however, is that the Republicans want to do something about the “broken” immigration system. That may be a stretch. Republicans thrive when things are broken and they can point fingers. Who needs Republicans when thing are going well? And there’s the matter of modern conservative philosophy. When things are going well, that means government works – it can do good stuff – and that just can’t be. Ronald Reagan said the ten most dangerous words in the English language are “Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” – or maybe Jesus said that. It doesn’t matter which. That’s a given. Why would they fix the immigration system? The business community – large corporations and the national Chamber of Commerce – want immigration reform, because they want cheap labor with no legal hassles, and they do pay the campaign bills for every Republican, but maybe they can be put off again. This could be tricky.

It’s not tricky for this guy:

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn warns there could be not only a political firestorm but acts of civil disobedience and even violence in reaction to President Obama’s executive order on immigration Thursday.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” Coburn said on Capital Download. “You’re going to see – hopefully not – but you could see instances of anarchy. … You could see violence.”

The implication is that massive waves of violence might be justified in this case, because the president is acting like “an autocratic leader who is going to disregard what the Constitution says and make law anyway” – and rising up against that is right and natural, or something or other. This is, of course, tantamount to giving permission for certain folks – the Rush Limbaugh crowd and those who think Ted Nugent is the finest constitutional scholar living today – to go out and pillage and loot or whatever. He says he’d hate for that to happen, but he’d understand if it did. Coburn seems to hope that will happen. Maybe it is time to overthrow the elected government. He could have just said that.

Then there’s Ted Cruz at Politico with Obama Is Not a Monarch – more of the same sort of thing:

To be clear, the dispute over executive amnesty is not between President Obama and Republicans in Congress; it is a dispute between President Obama and the American People. The Democrats suffered historic losses in the midterm elections largely over the prospect of the President’s executive amnesty.

None of the exit polls showed that, but if Cruz wishes to think so, then this follows:

Undeterred, President Obama appears to be going forward. It is lawless. It is unconstitutional. He is defiant and angry at the American people. If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch.

Cruz did, however, avoid calling Obama an angry and uppity nigger. Obama is King George of course, and Cruz is Thomas Paine, or perhaps Patrick Henry, or George Washington. It’s safer to say that, but an item in the Los Angeles Times looks at another dynamic at play here:

Tea party conservatives have renewed talk of censuring or impeaching the president. But the strong reaction by Republican leaders has less to do with opposition to the nuts and bolts of the president’s immigration policy and more to do with fear and anger that the issue will derail the agenda of the new Republican majority before the next Congress even convenes.

Republican leaders who had hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president’s healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they’ve tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

They really don’t want to deal with this at all. Obama is forcing Republicans to deal with immigration, setting the agenda, which frustrates them:

To many, stark warnings from Boehner and McConnell sound more like pleas to the president to avoid reenergizing the GOP’s conservative wing, whose leaders are already threatening to link the president’s immigration plan to upcoming budget talks.

Another government shutdown is not what McConnell and Boehner had in mind when their party won control of Congress this month.

In fact, McConnell said flatly a day after the election that another shutdown would not happen. But calls by firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to use “all procedural means necessary” during Congress’ lame-duck session to block the White House’s immigration plans have left leaders scrambling to tame their rebellious ranks.

Republican leaders are increasingly concerned that if Obama follows through, the anti-immigrant fervor in their party will rise to an unappealing crescendo and the rank-and-file’s desire to confront the president will overtake other party priorities.

This does make it hard to advance legislation that lowers taxes on the rich and gets rid of all environmental regulation and confirm trade pacts that let corporations move work offshore, freeing them from whining American workers who want their high wages and stupid benefits. It is a distraction:

“We’re urging Republicans, whatever happens on immigration, let’s also stay focused,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, which is aligned with the billionaire Koch brothers and spent millions in the midterm campaign supporting Republican candidates for Congress. The group has not taken a position on immigration.

“We just want to make sure this economic agenda is not lost, because there’s an enormous opportunity next year with Republicans who control the Senate and the House to … pass significant legislation,” Phillips said.

Note that this group that the Koch brothers set up has not taken a position on immigration. They don’t want to touch that. They don’t want the political party that they now own to go down that rabbit hole. Alice found Wonderland down the rabbit hole, but she also found the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat. That cat, like Obama, just grinned and grinned until only the grin was left. You don’t want to go there.

Ed Kilgore thinks they may not be able to resist that:

As the engines of the Right-Wing Noise Machine rev themselves up into a high-pitched, chattering whine in anticipation of the Great Tyrannical Amnesty Declaration of 2014, it becomes harder and harder to believe that Republicans are going to resist the temptation to shut down the federal government again. Some of them, of course, are already there. And a lot more are back to the “partial shutdown” position that Ted Cruz tried to sell during his “Defund Obamacare” run-up to the 2013 shutdown: the fantasy that Republicans can get Obama blamed for a shutdown if they keep saying they want everything other than the contaminated areas of government to continue.

When they shut down the government last time they did quickly make sure the air-traffic controllers got back to work right as it started – important people flying to important places to do important things were getting pissed off – and they made sure the Social Security checks went out. Their base is full of angry old folks on Social Security. Shut the government down, but don’t tick off your people. That was what they thought would work, even if it didn’t, but now, looking back, Republicans also don’t think voters will remember what happens this time, because they didn’t last time.

Paul Waldman explains that thinking:

Approval of the Republican Party took a nose dive in the wake of the shutdown, and though it is still viewed negatively by most Americans, that didn’t stop Republicans from having a great election day. Because as at least some within the GOP understand, you can create chaos and crisis, and large numbers of voters will conclude not that Republicans are bent on creating chaos and crisis but that “Washington” is broken, and the way to fix it is to elect the people who aren’t in the president’s party. That in this case that happened to be precisely the people who broke it escaped many voters. The fact that the electorate skewed so heavily Republican in an election with the lowest turnout since 1942 also helped them escape the consequences of their behavior.


There’s a very fine line between realizing you’ve escaped the consequences of your behavior and concluding there are no consequences. And once you arrive at that conclusion, you’re the alcoholic who has a drink or two, doesn’t pass out, and decides to celebrate the drinking problem being gone by ordering up a whole bottle.


We may be seeing the front end of an evolution in their thinking, not just from “Shutting down the government would be bad for us” to “We could shut down the government and be just fine,” but from there all the way to “Shutting down the government would be genius.” Just you wait.

They will go down that rabbit hole, and they will meet that grinning Cheshire Cat. That would be the grinning cat with a plan. Slate’s John Dickerson explains:

Republicans will react with anger and fury, but the president believes the move might spur Republicans to act on immigration if for no other reason than to overwrite his executive orders. Some of the president’s aides and supporters believe it will lead to a Republican overreaction like the government shutdown of last year. That, in turn, would weaken the GOP, helping Democrats politically and possibly even offering the opportunity for better negotiating terms with Republicans on a variety of issues, when they become anxious to show that they can govern ahead of 2016.

That’s the theory anyway.

Ah, but there’s more to it:

More important, this president has picked a course for the final stage of his presidency that is a total reversal from its original heading. The promises of Obama 2008 have been dead for a long time. The idea of progress through engagement and a higher-minded approach to the zero-sum politics of the Bush years started dying not long after Obama had his first contact with a determined Republican opposition. By the time the president won re-election, his team was operating under the premise that it was useless to negotiate with Republicans in the House. They concluded GOP leaders couldn’t deliver on the minimum requirements necessary for governing. What the president is doing now on immigration is going one step further. He’s embracing a strategy that posits that progress doesn’t come through cajoling, speechmaking, or refusing to budge, as he did during the debt ceiling debate during the shutdown; instead, you have to punch them in the nose. It’s an approach that is bigger and more confrontational than the minimum wage workarounds or Environmental Protection Agency regulations. He once promised to use his pen to make progress; now he’s wielding it as a weapon.

You have to punch them in the nose? Maybe there is no other choice now:

This, say the president’s aides, is the only way to proceed when faced with Republicans who refuse to act on immigration reform. The GOP has had years to make progress and has failed to do so. Marco Rubio, the Republican senator who pushed a comprehensive solution, now feels like a remote participant in the conversation and House Speaker John Boehner wouldn’t raise a bipartisan Senate bill in the House for fear of having an election-year crackup over policy details. That dynamic hasn’t changed, so the president is moving forward.

He could give them more time, another two years perhaps, to come up with something on their own, but there are other matters to consider:

Why not give Republicans a handful of months to come up with their immigration plan and then, if they don’t meet the deadline, go ahead with the executive orders? There’s no real rush (or Obama would have ordered the overhaul before the election), and the election has actually changed the dynamic. (If the election didn’t change things, then why did Obama wait until it passed to act?) An argument can be made for delay on purely political grounds. It would look “reasonable” to the op-ed writers and pundits, and it would put pressure on Republicans to act – to actually wrestle with the details of the issue – and that would be messy as different GOP factions fought it out over specific legislative language. Chaos in Republican ranks benefits the president because GOP leaders would have to work to avoid appearing that they were unable to govern on an important issue of the day. That might make them partners on a larger immigration deal that could benefit more people and offer a big legacy item for the president, whereas if the president moves unilaterally they’ll never cooperate with the White House on immigration. Any deal with Obama after the executive orders would be seen by the conservative grass roots as a grand capitulation.

The president cannot delay say his aides and allies, because he cannot disappoint his supporters in the Latino community again. There have been too many delays already. Deferring any longer would damage the political unity he’ll hope to draw on in his final two years, and it would hurt Democrats up for re-election in 2016, especially if the president backed down again. That’s why in an interview with Univision, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made his case for the president “going big” by referring to his own political situation. “I think the parents of people I know in Nevada deserve this.”

In short, the argument for moving unilaterally is stronger than the surprisingly strong argument for putting that off, and you can also help people and still screw the Republicans:

Democrats believe that delay will only create calls for more delay and more inaction. By forcing the confrontation now, the president takes immediate action to help immigrant families and still puts political pressure on the GOP. Republican leaders now have to temper their reaction by reining in in their members calling for impeachment or another set of budget confrontations, perhaps even a government shutdown, which could backfire as the last one did. At the moment, the risk of a shutdown looks remote, but the challenge is larger than just avoiding a shutdown. Republicans also have to be smart about how they undo the president’s actions, making it an argument about presidential overreach and not an opportunity for them to be painted as inflexible on the issue.

At least someone learned something:

President Obama’s new, muscular position on immigration is the best evidence of his newfound freedom that has come after his party’s big loss at the polls. He is no longer holding his fire to protect Democrats up for re-election in red states. (Some of his aides believe the restraint not only irritated him but led to the weak outcome.) This will likely be the first of few brawls in the president’s final years in office.

The day has come for that and it starts with an announcement of a few administrative adjustments to existing law, which doesn’t change.

This is not a big deal, but it is to those who long to rise up and rid America of this usurper, but Sam Stein reports this:

At the Mayflower Hotel, lawyers gathered for the annual Federalist Society national convention –one of the highest-profile conservative legal events of the year. The day’s big draws were the opening speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and an evening event featuring Justice Samuel Alito.

Before the crowd changed into black tie attire for Alito’s appearance, however, a smaller panel convened under the title, “Federalism: The President’s Duty to Take Care That the Law be Faithfully Executed.” Panelists discussed major confrontations between the branches of government, from enforcement of marijuana law and the implementation of health care to Obama’s impending executive order on immigration.

The talk was, well, lawyerly. Every conclusion seemed to have a qualification attached to it. But, by and large, the panelists agreed the president has wide legal latitude to prioritize and shape deportation laws, as regrettable for Republicans or the long-term balance of powers that may be.

The lawyers know:

“I think the roots of prosecutorial discretion are extremely deep,” said Christopher Schroeder, the Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies at Duke Law School. “The practice is long and robust. The case law is robust. Let me put it this way: Suppose some president came to me and asked me in the office of legal counsel, ‘Is it okay for me to go ahead and defer the deportation proceedings of childhood arrival?’ Under the present state of the law, I think that would be an easy opinion to write. Yes.”

And the Cheshire Cat grins.

Posted in Immigration Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dysfunction Junction Forever

Dysfunction Junction is that Seattle bluegrass band – not to be confused with Dysfunkshun Junkshun – the disco-funk party band down in Austin, in Texas, available for weddings and such. Coming up with a good name for your band is hard. Everything from The Strawberry Alarm Clock to Counting Crows has been tried. Down the street here, at the Whisky and the Viper Room and the Roxy, there’s always a new and random and absurd set of band names on the marquees each night. They come and they go. Maybe it’s best to go with two rhyming words that everyone’s been rubbing together since the swing band era in the forties, if there’s a way to avoid trademark/copyright issues. It’s just that these two words, put together, should be in public domain by now. Everyone has probably put those two words together at one time or another, in a lame attempt to be clever, and now the current editors of Foreign Affairs have decided to call their latest issue Dysfunction Junction:

Francis Fukuyama kicks off our special package with a magisterial analysis of U.S. political decay, showing how today’s problems stem from the basic design of the country’s political institutions and have been exacerbated by increasingly hostile polarization. His conclusion is depressing: absent some sort of major external shock, the decay is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Yascha Mounk looks at the rise of populism in the United States and Europe. Far from being the product of a temporary economic crisis, he finds, the Tea Party and its European cousins have emerged from the enduring inability of democratic governments to satisfy their citizens’ needs. Leaders must learn to co-opt and channel popular passions, addressing political outsiders’ legitimate grievances while bypassing their simplistic solutions.

And then there is the domestic scene:

The American right is in particular turmoil, as it tries to reverse a national losing streak while also accommodating the ideological demands of an increasingly angry and extreme base. David Frum argues that the Republican Party’s central problem is its increasing dependence on the old and the rich and that a revival of its fortunes will have to wait for the emergence of a truly multiethnic, socially tolerant conservatism. And Byron York assesses the work of the party’s would-be reformers and stresses the importance of appealing to the middle class.

As for the left, while its divisions may look less dramatic, differences lurk there as well. Michael Kazin juxtaposes the left’s string of victories in the cultural sphere, where progressives have expanded individual rights for society’s oppressed, with its equally notable string of defeats on the economic front, as the left has tried to create a more egalitarian society motivated by a spirit of solidarity. And Michael Tomasky assesses the potential for a revolt against the centrist views of Democratic elites by the party’s progressive masses, led by a champion such as Senator Elizabeth Warren.

All of that is behind an impressive paywall, so you’ll have to spend a considerable amount to read all that, or buy the dead-tree hardcopy magazine itself, but that may not be necessary. The summaries will do. The structure of representative government we set up in the late eighteen century, with its elaborate system of check and balances, which we have continually refined since then, seems to have stopped working, torn apart by its own internal contractions – or perhaps it never did account for human nature. Actual people always mess up theoretically perfect systems. Every robot in every science fiction movie would tell you that, and has. That is what HAL told Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. People want what they want, even if it will ruin everything. Others will, however, try to stop them, for their own idiosyncratic reasons, and can stop them – and then nothing gets done either way. Things stop working. We’re there now.

That just happened again:

Senate Democrats, by a single vote, stopped legislation that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the most fractious and expensive battles of the Obama presidency.

The vote represented a victory for the environmental movement, but the fight had taken on larger dimensions as a proxy war between Republicans, who argued that the project was vital for job creation, and President Obama, who had delayed a decision on building it.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, who is facing a runoff election Dec. 6, had pleaded with her colleagues throughout the day to support the pipeline, leading to a rare suspense-filled roll call in the Senate. But she was ultimately rebuffed and fell short by one. The bill was defeated with 59 votes in favor and 41 against, and Ms. Landrieu needing 60 votes to proceed.

The bill didn’t proceed to simple majority vote – she couldn’t break the de facto filibuster – and this was curious, because this wasn’t about the pipeline:

The battle over approving the pipeline, which will carry petroleum from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas, ultimately became a proxy war for the Louisiana Senate seat, where Ms. Landrieu and Representative Bill Cassidy, a Republican, are locked in fight for votes in their oil-rich state ahead of a Dec. 6 runoff election.

Ms. Landrieu – who, if re-elected, will lose her coveted position as chairwoman of the Energy Committee when Republicans take the Senate majority next year – spent the past few days working furiously to round up Democratic support for her bill, which she had hoped would be her last, best chance of holding on to her Senate seat.

She had a special need. Her party seems to have decided she was going to lose that runoff election anyway, so they voted for the environment:

Both Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Landrieu were eager to take credit for supporting the Keystone bill back home, where their state’s economy is heavily dependent on oil-industry jobs. Speaking on the floor, Republicans sought to cast the legislation as “Congressman Cassidy’s Keystone jobs bill,” while Democrats described it as Ms. Landrieu’s brainchild.

Even Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who did not support the bill and said Keystone XL stood for “extra lethal,” was sure to note that credit for the legislation belonged to Ms. Landrieu.

“Senator Landrieu is the only reason that we are debating this today,” Ms. Boxer said. “Set the politics aside. Let the record be clear forever: This debate would not be before this body were it not for Senator Landrieu’s insistence.”

That’s pretty nasty, and Landrieu had cover too. Obama was going to veto the thing, making her support of this ugly pipeline moot, after the fact, if it came to that. It didn’t come to that. Nothing got done. Next year’s thoroughly Republican Congress can revisit this, unless oil prices continue to plummet, making extracting oil from tar sands in Canada, an extremely expensive process, just not worth doing at all. That’s a market-based solution the Republicans never saw coming. The Republicans said building that pipeline would create nearly fifty thousand jobs – but the number of net jobs that would be created, when all was said and done, would be fifty full-time jobs – so they dodged a bullet there. They could have argued that no one gives a shit about the environment or about global warming or any of that stuff, but many do. They couldn’t go there. This is over for now.

A few minutes later it was this:

A wall of Republican opposition brought down a controversial National Security Agency reform bill Tuesday night, leaving the future of the package in doubt ahead of a Republican takeover next year.

Sen. Patrick Leahy’s legislation that would end the NSA’s bulk data collection narrowly fell short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, 58-42, a major defeat for privacy advocates, civil libertarians and a White House that supports the bill. The filibuster of the proposal prevents it from even coming to the floor for debate.

The one filibuster was the mirror of the other:

Opposition was led by Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and colleague Sen. Rand Paul, who both voted down the legislation, though for different reasons. McConnell, like many Republicans, voted it down because he believed the reforms went too far, while Paul voted against the bill because it did not go far enough.

The issues were clear:

Other heavy hitters joined the view that NSA proposal would make it difficult to combat terrorism, a crowd that included Marco Rubio of Florida, another potential White House aspirant.

“They cannot cite a single example of this program being abused,” Rubio said of the bill’s supporters. “Not one. We are dealing with a theoretical threat.”

Advocates of the bill made impassioned pleas to advance it past a filibuster, the rare proposal that drew the support of both GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Democratic Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California.

“It would help address the problem of the American government spying on its citizens without cause,” said Lee, a co-sponsor of the bill, on the Senate floor before the vote. “What opponents of this bill fail to appreciate is that most Americans are deeply, deeply, concerned about the collection of their personal information.”

Polls do show that, but the “we’ll do anything because the terrorists are going to kill us all today” crowd needed to show that they were ruthless and strong, because they think that’s where the key voters are these days. Key voters matter far more than general public opinion. General public opinion doesn’t vote. Specific people do – and this will come up again next year too, when the same thing will happen. Once again, the merits of the legislation won’t matter much. This is about political positioning. One of these folks will be running for president the next year.

In both case there was not a majority vote. Each side seems fine with structural anomaly – the sixty-vote wall that much be breached to get to that majority vote, the wall that seems to assure that nothing gets done. Kevin Drum puts it this way:

Both bills had majority support. Both failed thanks to filibusters. It’s good to see that life is back to normal in Washington DC.

Then there is the issue of President Obama changing immigration rules via executive action, where the latest USA Today poll shows the Democrats want Obama to act now, and Republicans want him to wait for them to come up with legislation, finally, and independents are split down the middle. There is, however, this curious crosstab:

On one more issue, Americans are in agreement: The elections two weeks ago aren’t going to make Washington work better. Just 15% predict Obama and the new Congress, now under solid Republican control, will work together more closely to reach bipartisan compromises.

Kevin Drum puts that this way:

The American public is pretty politically astute, I’d say. They may not be up to speed on all the details of policymaking, but when it comes to the big picture, they know a lot more than the Beltway pundits seem to.

They may be more astute than David Brooks – everyone’s favorite reasonable and pleasant “nice” conservative (he never shouts) – who offers this:

The White House has not privately engaged with Congress on the legislative areas where there could be agreement. Instead, the president has been super-aggressive on the one topic sure to blow everything up: the executive order to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws. …

I sympathize with what Obama is trying to do substantively, but the process of how it’s being done is ruinous. Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult and yet more political ineptitude. Everybody would go into warfare mode. We’ll get two more years of dysfunction that will further arouse public disgust and antigovernment fervor (making a Republican presidency more likely).

This move would also make it much less likely that we’ll have immigration reform anytime soon. White House officials are often misinformed on what Republicans are privately discussing, so they don’t understand that many in the Republican Party are trying to find a way to get immigration reform out of the way. This executive order would destroy their efforts.

Kevin Drum, again, is certainly not impressed:

In 2006, Republicans lost. President Bush’s first action was to order a surge in Iraq, which infuriated Democrats. In 2008, Republicans lost. They responded by adopting a policy of obstructing every possible action by Democrats – including even a modest stimulus package during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In 2012, Republicans lost. They responded with brinkmanship over the fiscal cliff, a flat refusal to fill open judicial positions on the DC circuit court, and an endless bellowing rage over Benghazi and other manufactured outrages.

By comparison, all Obama is doing is something he’s been saying he’ll do for nearly a year. It’s not even all that big a deal if you step back for a moment and think about it. Several million undocumented immigrants are going to be told they’re officially free of the threat of deportation for a temporary period, as opposed to the status quo, in which they’re effectively free of the threat of deportation. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a big deal for the immigrants affected. But in terms of actual impact on immigration policy writ large? It doesn’t really do much.

And yet, this single action is apparently enough to – rightly! – put Republicans into warfare mode. If that’s true, I can only conclude that literally anything Republicans don’t like is enough to justify going into warfare mode. That’s certainly been how it’s worked in the past, anyway.

That’s been a root cause of our dysfunctional government for six years now, but it doesn’t have to be that way:

Look: Republicans can decide for themselves if they want to go to war. If they want to pass yet another bill repealing Obamacare, that’s fine. If they want to sue the president over the EPA or immigration, that’s fine. If they want to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, that’s fine. I assume Obama will win some of these battles and lose others, but in any case will treat these as the ordinary cut and thrust of politics instead of declaring them calculated insults that have infuriated him so much he can’t possibly ever engage with the GOP again. In other words, he’ll act like an adult, not a five-year-old.

This is what we expect from presidents. Why don’t we expect the same from congressional Republicans? Why are they allowed to stamp and scream whenever something doesn’t go their way, and everyone just shrugs? Once and for all, why don’t we demand that they act like adults too?

That’s a good question. Perhaps we expect dysfunction now, as how things are and will always be from now on. We shrug, but something else bothers Drum too:

I didn’t bother with Brooks’ claim that Republicans are “privately” discussing real, honest-to-goodness immigration reform, but color me skeptical. If they want to engage on this subject, they need to discuss it with Obama, not between themselves. They’ve had plenty of time for that, and have never been willing to buck the Tea Party to get something done.

Ed Kilgore addresses that:

Give me a break. The Senate acted on comprehensive immigration reform seventeen months ago. Since then the principal Republican cosponsor of that bill, Marco Rubio, has practically toured the country in sackcloth and ashes, recanting his heresy. The House has done nothing, other than a hasty symbolic “response” to the summer border refugee crisis that wound up being shaped by Steve King and Michele Bachmann. The GOP’s center of gravity on immigration has steadily shifted to “deport ‘em all.” So what will further delay mean – a big debate over how much to spend on police dogs and box cars?

Even that, of course, might be appropriate, since the current law is “deport ‘em all,” without the resources to “deport ‘em all” – which forces the executive branch to exercise prosecutorial discretion on whom to pursue, and that’s why we are where we are today.

Kilgore will cut these guys no slack at all:

If you’re going to harshly criticize Obama for taking a more definitive position on prosecutorial guidelines, you need to identify some alternative strategy. Is it more police dogs and box cars? Is it random prosecution, hoping the fear of arbitrary state power makes life difficult enough for the undocumented that they “self-deport?”

“Wait!” won’t cut it anymore.

Jamelle Bouie, at Slate, is a bit more detailed about this:

One of the great ironies of the Obama administration is that – on several occasions – it was pushed to the left by Republicans. The Affordable Care Act didn’t have to have the Medicaid expansion – a huge liberal reform of a major government program. It didn’t have to have the generous subsidies, the “Cadillac tax” on expensive, high-income insurance plans, or the broad coverage for birth control and other contraceptives. At any point during the health care debate – which lasted from the spring of 2009 to the beginning of 2010 – Republicans could have bargained with Democrats to remove or weaken those provisions for their support on the final bill. And the White House would have gone along. The president wanted bipartisan support, and with his post-partisan faith still strong, he would have sacrificed a lot to get it.

They chose dysfunction instead:

Instead, they fought a war, attacking reform, denying their participation – and in the process – marking the right of the Democratic Party as the conservative boundary of discussion over the bill. That’s why, after President Obama finally signed the Affordable Care Act into law, former Bush speechwriter David Frum called the occasion “the most crushing legislative defeat” for Republicans since the 1960s. “Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views,” asked Frum, “To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.”

They could have had half a loaf, which is always better than none, but they decided to it was far more noble and principled to go hungry, and perhaps that did impress their base, which got nothing at all. The resultant white-hot anger of their base has been politically useful to the Republicans. Only David Frum seemed unhappy with nothing, but there are those who, if they can’t have exactly what they want, will accept nothing at all – you know, four-year-olds.

Bouie sets out where that led:

This dynamic – Republicans losing their shot for more conservative policy at the cost of some cooperation – played out with entitlement reform (a small concession on taxes would have won a “grand bargain” on Medicare and Social Security), and environmental policy (instead of a market-based “cap and trade,” Republicans will get new regulations and a more bureaucratic approach). And now it is about to play out with immigration, too.

They don’t know what they’re missing:

According to an analysis from the Migration Policy Institute, this plan – which might build on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – could reach more than five million people, depending on the exact criteria the administration applies. Compared to the Senate immigration bill passed last year – or the guidelines crafted by House Republicans the same year – the White House plan is less far reaching. At the same time, it lacks the border security and enforcement mechanisms of the bipartisan and Republican proposals. Under the president’s plan, millions of immigrants will receive legal protection without any of the requirements of the bipartisan Senate bill, from thousands of new border and customs agents, to billions of dollars in new enforcement funding, to strict triggers for when unauthorized immigrants are even eligible to apply for legal status and citizenship. Liberals will have made an important policy advance – and one likely to stick, judging by similar executive orders by previous presidents- without making substantive concessions to conservative priorities.

I wouldn’t call it a defeat on the same scale of the Affordable Care Act, but it is a defeat.

Of course it is, but they see compromise, for some of what they want, as defeat. Go figure:

Given the high priority for immigration reform, there’s no question Democrats could have worked with House Republicans to craft a counterpart to the Senate bill. And indeed, there’s a good chance they would have made even more concessions if it guaranteed a vote. As with health care, Republicans could have gotten more conservative policy than they otherwise will if they had backed down from their relentless opposition.

There’s no good response to that:

Now, the obvious reply to this is that the president’s executive action is lawless – that it’s outside of the bounds of presidential power. And if that’s true, then it’s hard to pin the outcome on Republicans; unlike health care – where Democrats really could act regardless of what Republicans did – immigration legislation is only possible with GOP cooperation. In normal circumstances, the president backs down when he loses a legislative fight. If, instead, he responds with an illegal executive order, then it’s unfair to point the finger at the opposition and say, you did this.

But, GOP assertions aside, there’s no evidence the president’s plan is illegal.

Yes, that is a pesky problem. Now, on this and everything else, we have reached that dysfunction junction. It would be nice if that were only a bluegrass band, from Seattle of all places. It isn’t. America is broken, maybe for good this time.

Posted in Immigration Reform, Keystone XL Pipeline, NSA Spying, Republican Obstructionism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arguments for and Against What Hasn’t Yet Been Done

Perhaps the chattering class – cable news personalities (an apt term as they make their living exhibiting carefully developed dramatic attitude about the analysis of others) and political writers who knock off two eight-hundred word syndicated columns a week, trying to explain the excruciatingly complex in short snappy prose that ignores all the pesky details – has too much time on its hands. This is the week that President Obama will sign an executive order that will allow up to five million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation, or he won’t, and even if he does, no one knows the details yet – other than the Republicans will be outraged if he does. Their preemptive whining has been a bit tiresome – all that talk about impeachment and shutting down the government – run him out of office or at least shut the nation down until he reverses what he did, which he hasn’t done yet. Equally tiresome are all the reports that the old hands in the party, those who have been around for a few years, are telling everyone the Republican Party will do neither. They impeached Bill Clinton and it made him more popular and they lost a whole lot of seats in a whole lot of elections after that. And every time they forced a government shutdown, to get what they wanted, they didn’t get what they wanted, and the nation, collectively, decided they were dangerous jerks. That stung. They had to invent another crisis to get folks to forget what they’d just done. Luckily, the nation has a short attention span – but still, forcing a government shutdown has never made America say, gee, these guys are brave and noble and have solid principles. They didn’t like normal government services grinding to a halt. Air-traffic controllers are useful, as are federal food safety inspectors – the bright red raw burgers in that that shrink-wrapped package at the supermarket really should not contain too much fecal matter. Besides, Ronald Reagan and the first president Bush, the relatively sensible one, did that same thing – they used their authority to decide how to enforce the law and let many millions of harmless illegal immigrants stay here, because the government’s resources in these matters are limited – best to go after the bad guys. By analogy, cops don’t stop you for going thirty-six in a thirty-five-miles-per-hour zone. They’d have no time for nothing else. They have better things to do – like catch the asshole doing ninety, while texting, after drinking. Obama would be doing what is sensible.

That means the issue is what’s sensible, and that’s what the chattering class is talking about. It may not matter what Obama does. The issue is what’s sensible, and also politically advantageous – one must not alienate angry white voters, who always show up at the polls, or Hispanic voters, who seldom show up but are the fasting growing demographic now, and will make a big difference in the future even if only one in five show up to vote. There are a lot of them, and there will be more. There’s a lot to consider here. Obama may be goading the Republicans into doing something foolish, daring them to shut down the government or impeach him, because he knows that will make them look like fools, and they know it too and are having a hard time resisting the urge to do just that, because it would make their base happy beyond words, even if everyone else would give up on them. That’s a political calculation. Or Obama might try to finally keep his promise to the Hispanic voters who helped put him in office and are starting to write him off, and starting to write off the Democrats as they wrote off the Republicans long ago – another political calculation. Or Obama might be trying to do the right thing for the country, although that’s not often discussed by the chattering class. The politics of the thing are far more compelling. That’s what’s discussed on Fox News and MSNBC and what’s in the syndicated columns, and at the major websites of the left and right. Political issues have been raised. Those are addressed.

They should be, and a CNN contributor, Ruben Navarrette, addresses the issue of what Obama is up to:

Conservatives love to stir their flock by pushing the narrative that Obama is a staunch supporter of “amnesty” and that the President has always been in lockstep with immigration reform advocates.

That’s fiction. It’s been a rocky relationship. That’s because Obama belongs to that wing of the Democratic Party that hasn’t been interested in legalizing the undocumented and creating more competition in the job market for U.S. workers.

There’s no hiding that:

Obama broke his campaign promise to make reform a top issue and eroded trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement by expanding 100-fold the program known as Secure Communities, which ropes local police into enforcing federal immigration law. He tried to fend off critics who wanted him to slow deportations by claiming that he didn’t have the power to act “as a king,” only to later flip-flop and do just that during his 2012 re-election campaign when he unveiled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Obama deported a record 2 million people in five years, divided hundreds of thousands of families, failed to deal effectively with thousands of child refugees who streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border last summer and then broke another promise when he said he would take executive action on immigration before the midterm elections but blinked.

Obama is obviously, now, trying to repair the damage he’s done, but that’s tricky:

Options include some common sense items: Eliminating Secure Communities; broadening DACA by eliminating restrictions on how old applicants can be and when they had to have arrived; restating that the enforcement priority should be to remove violent criminals and not housekeepers and students; and expanding visa programs for immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens.

But it’s the final item on the list that could really upset the apple cart: deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, which could result in as many as 4 million to 5 million people getting a temporary reprieve from deportation. When those undocumented college students known as DREAMers first argued for special treatment, the claim was based on the simple idea that they were brought here as children and thus didn’t intentionally choose to break the law.

Fair enough. But the same thing can’t be said of their parents, who did intentionally break the law. Now what? Is there a new argument?

There doesn’t seem to be one, and what’s going on here, if it goes on, doesn’t look good:

Those on the left should hold their applause. By ending the deportation juggernaut, the President would merely be putting out a fire that he started. Besides, this is just a temporary reprieve that would require the undocumented to surrender to law enforcement officials, get fingerprinted and all the rest. And it could all be revoked by the next president.

Maybe the Republicans should relax. The may be nothing much at all going on here, and they can always talk endlessly about Benghazi, to keep Hillary Clinton from become president, then President Rand Paul or President Chris Christie can deport fourteen million folks in one afternoon, all at once. Still, Andrew Sullivan, who is generally fine with Obama, was appalled by this move:

Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill – which if it can, great, and if it cannot, will split the GOP in two – he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a “lawless dictator”, etc., etc. – rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.

Sullivan wanted Obama to wait, but now he’s changed his mind:

So both Reagan and the first Bush did exactly what Obama is proposing, as the AP has also reported – and their measures involved 1.5 million people. More to the point, the deferrals were for family members whose deportations would split parents from children.

That got to him, and he cites the US Catholic Bishops regarding this as an issue of great moral urgency:

As pastors, we witness each day the human consequences of a broken immigration system. Families are separated through deportation, migrant workers are exploited in the workplace, and migrants die in the desert … Immigration is a challenge that has confounded our nation for years, with little action from our federally elected officials. It is a matter of great moral urgency that cannot wait any longer for action.

Sullivan is Catholic, but there’s more to it than that:

As someone who has been through the immigration system – surviving the HIV immigration and travel ban for twenty years – I perhaps have a more personal understanding of this.

It is hard to describe the psychological agony of an immigration service having the power to tear your family apart, especially when it has been built in America for many years. These are human beings we are talking about – not abstractions in a partisan mud fight. They are mothers about to be separated from their children – and treated as inferior to them. They have no rights, even though they may have contributed a huge amount to the US economy, and have often displayed real tenacity in building strong and intimate families. They face real deadlines, and Obama, for a long time, has not stinted in deporting them under the law, as a (futile) way of building trust with the GOP.

That was stupid:

The House GOP does not seem to have any intention of moving on comprehensive immigration reform, preferring simply to build an even bigger fence on the Southern border, while the Senate has already passed a bipartisan comprehensive bill. Obama campaigned on this issue in 2008 and 2012. Majorities in the country favor a path to citizenship. Obama has said any action he takes would be superseded immediately by any new law. In a sane polity, Obama’s threat would lead to a commitment by the GOP to move a bill forward to address the core issues promptly. And I certainly favor that. Such prosecutorial discretion should never be considered as an alternative to legislation – just relief to individuals trapped in a limbo that would tear their families apart.

I still favor Obama’s deferral of his deferral in the interests of a more productive and constructive relationship with the GOP over the next two years. But that’s a prudential judgment of the politics of this. And it’s a close call.

No, it’s not. They will do nothing, so the politics don’t matter any longer. Do the right thing. Wait no longer.

Michael Tomasky sees the same thing and points out here that the Senate immigration bill “could have passed the House of Representatives, and probably easily, at any time since the Senate passed it in June 2013″ – except for John Boehner’s decision never to let it come to a vote in the House:

It’s been 16 months, nearly 500 days, since the Senate passed the bill. The House could have passed it on any one of those days. But Boehner and the Republicans refused, completely out of cowardice and to spite Obama. Insanely irresponsible – and on top of that, Boehner told Obama in June that he was not going to allow a vote on it all year. In other words, the Speaker told the President (both of whom knew the bill had the votes) that he was not only going to refuse to have a vote, but that he was going to let the Senate bill die. And now, when Obama wants to try to do something about the issue that’s actually far, far more modest than the bill would have been, he’s the irresponsible one? That’s grounds for impeachment?

But we all knew why that bill wasn’t brought up for a vote:

The bill has its flaws of course, but it’s something we haven’t seen in Washington in many, many years: a genuinely bipartisan response on a major issue. The left gets its path to citizenship, which is the only real-world solution when you’re talking about 12 million people, the vast majority of whom are (even though they came illegally) now law-abiding and hard-working people once ensconced; and the right gets (yes, it does) heightened border security. Nobody truly loves it, but nobody ever truly loves big compromise legislation. It is, however, how Washington is supposed to function.

So there are, or were, plenty of Republican votes for it in the House. In fact the GOP pro-reform votes would likely have been closer to 80, maybe even 100, than 40. So it could have passed – no, would have passed – by somewhere in the 260-175 range. Other observers may have a lower number of “yeas”, but trust me – no person from either party speaking honestly would tell you that it would have failed. And Obama would have long since signed comprehensive immigration reform into law.

So if it had the votes, why didn’t it come up for a vote? Well, because it had the votes! The Republicans simply can’t give Obama a victory of any sort. But also: Because most of the votes for it would have been Democratic.

There is the psychological agony of an immigration service having the power to tear your family apart, and that didn’t matter. They decided to see if Obama, that bleeding-heart liberal, that old softie, would take the bait and think about what those bishops called a great moral urgency, because all of this has to do with so much human suffering, and act unilaterally, to mitigate that suffering. Obama will. Ah ha! They have him trapped, and they never really wanted those Hispanic votes anyway. Their base gets a kick out of Hispanic families suffering – it makes them feel more American themselves, and suffering is good for them anyway. Suffering is good for the soul. It builds character, and so on and so forth. And it’s so damned satisfying to watch. Those folks broke the law.

They might not put it that way, but they’ve come close at times, and Obama is, after all, about to bypass Congress, not giving them time to seat the new super-duper Republican Congress next year, and hold hearings, and come up with their own bill by next summer or fall, or winter. He’ll just do this. That’s not how things are supposed to work.

Democrats disagree, but Danny Vinik has a warning for them:

The president’s supporters argue that it’s the Republicans who have violated democratic norms, by refusing to even allow a bipartisan immigration bill that passed in the Senate to come to a vote in the House. It’s also unlikely that a move on immigration would set a precedent for future Republican presidents to undermine laws that Democrats support. I haven’t been able to imagine a comparable scenario where a Republican would have considerable legal authority to make a unilateral policy change. Immigration is a unique issue.

Still, Democrats could also lose some of their ability to claim the moral high ground on such issues. And that could matter very soon, because some Republicans are so angry about a potential immigration order they are considering using a government funding bill to block it, possibly setting up another shutdown.

The talk about who has the moral high ground here, or even what it is, gets confusing here. Obama may be overstepping, or not, and Josh Voorhees points that out:

The most sweeping action the president will likely take is to extend DACA-like reprieves to particular groups of unauthorized immigrants, the largest of which will probably be parents of children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Such a reprieve would temporarily protect them from the threat of deportation, but it wouldn’t remove that threat forever. Despite what conservatives are suggesting with their talk of “executive amnesty” the president doesn’t have the unilateral power to make someone a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident. …

There is one group for whom Obama’s actions could have a more lasting impact: those unauthorized immigrants whose spouses are U.S. citizens or legal residents. Most people in that group are technically eligible to apply for a green card already, but only if they first leave the country and wait out what’s typically a lengthy separation from their family. Obama could offer what is known as “parole in place” to that group, allowing them to stay in the country legally while the green card process plays out. He did a similar thing last November for undocumented individuals with immediate family members serving in the U.S. military. Anyone who has a green card in hand before the president leaves office in early 2017 wouldn’t have to worry about losing it if the next president changes course.

These things get tricky, and Brian Beutler suggests it’s the Republicans who are trapped:

There are three tools Republicans can use to stop Obama, but toxic Republican politics preclude the only one – a pledge to vote on comprehensive reform – that would actually work. That leaves the spending and impeachment powers. If, like Boehner, Republican hardliners truly believe the president is preparing to violate his oath of office, and an appropriations fight won’t stop him, then suddenly [that] becomes the last arrow in their quiver.

It won’t succeed either. But Boehner knows that this is where many of his members’ minds are already starting to wander. It’s why he’s once again floating the possibility of suing Obama instead.

Yeah, they could file a lawsuit and see if this Supreme Court – which gave them Citizens United and gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for them – would rule that some executive orders, or maybe all executive orders, are unconstitutional, that administering the law should be the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, charged with administering the laws. They’ve twisted the Constitution before. They can do it again.

Until then, Rachel Roubein sees what’s coming:

If Obama announces his executive order next Friday at noon, the House could stay in session for as long as needed rather than beginning the planned Thanksgiving recess. The chamber could pass a resolution rejecting the president’s actions. Then House Republicans would focus on appropriations.

The current funding bill is set to sunset Dec. 11, and lawmakers are jockeying over passing another short-term continuing resolution or a longer-term package. The House could attach a rider prohibiting enforcement of Obama’s order, or it could not provide money to departments that would respond to executive action.

There are all sorts of way to hurt Hispanic families who have no right to be here, even if they’re hard workers and now contributing much to the nation. This could be interesting. It won’t be pleasant.

Are they offering an alternative way of dealing with all these people, most of whom range from harmless to quite useful and good? In Bloomberg View, Francis Wilkinson wonders about that:

There are, after all, a finite number of answers to the question of what to do about millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.:

1. You can offer them a path to legalization and/or citizenship.

2. You can deport them.

3. You can maintain the status quo, in which the undocumented remain in the U.S. without legal rights or recognition (and perhaps “self deport” in accord with the wishes of Mitt Romney). …

Senator Jeff Sessions, who along with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas represents the hard end of anti-immigrant views in the Senate, shrinks from saying he supports deportation. He loudly condemns the status quo. And he’s virulently opposed to amnesty.

What was Obama supposed to do? That chattering class will debate that endlessly, no matter what he does. But someone had to do something. Let them chatter. Now they have something to chatter about.

Posted in Immigration Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Available Remedies

Andrew Johnson was an accidental president – Abraham Lincoln had been shot dead and, as vice president, Johnson was simply next in line. No one could fill Lincoln’s shoes, however, and Johnson could be rolled. This sums it up – “Johnson was sworn in as vice president in March 1865, giving a rambling and possibly drunken speech, and he secluded himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln made him president.”

No one expected that. Johnson was an embarrassment, and he was vulnerable, and the first guy to be in charge of getting the social and political ways of what was left of the South in line with the rest of the country. Reconstruction never went well, and maybe it’s still not going well after all these years – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is now pretty much dead, much to the glee of the South, and all Republicans – but that was the task Johnson faced. He made enemies, as would be expected, and on February 24, 1868, the House passed eleven articles of impeachment. Johnson was impeached for the high crime and misdemeanor of violating the Tenure of Office Act – passed by Congress the previous year and vetoed by Johnson. Congress overrode his veto and the new law was that if the Senate had to confirm any presidential appointment, the Senate had to approve that person’s removal. Johnson had replaced his Secretary of War, and a few others. When George Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates no one had any say in that, but back then they had different ideas, and a president everyone saw as a useless wimp. They could roll him.

Johnson was acquitted at the Senate trial. Those who wanted him gone fell one vote shy of the two-thirds vote they needed. Drat. The Tenure of Office Act, by the way, was later declared unconstitutional and Congress repealed the act in its entirety in 1887 – the whole thing had been a one-off designed to rid us of this fool. But Johnson was gone soon enough. He was followed by Ulysses S. Grant, the war hero who was a pretty hard drinker too – but a dynamic personality. When Grant stuck it to the unreconstructed South, it stuck. As for Johnson, his impeachment was purely political. He political enemies sensed weakness and they pounced.

Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on two charges, one of perjury and one of obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998, and that was pretty much the same thing. It was political. He had tried to wriggle out of a number of embarrassing private sexual matters, and he really had lied about them, but none of that had anything to do with governing the country. None of that was job-related, and he was acquitted of both charges by the Senate on February 12, 1999, and once again, those who wanted him gone fell one vote shy of the two-thirds vote they needed for that.

This time, however, most everyone saw that this was political. Clinton’s poll numbers rose as it all unfolded, with the Republicans slowly releasing explicit sexual detail after explicit sexual detail. The public would be appalled. They weren’t, and in ensuing elections the Republicans lost a whole lot of seats. No one wanted to hear it. The whole thing had been a farce, and all the legal matters were eventually settled with court citations and civil settlements. The nation moved on. Bill Clinton was who he was, an old hound dog of a certain type, but a pretty good president. George W. Bush promised to restore honor and dignity to the White House, and maybe that got him elected after Clinton’s two terms, but there’s obviously more to honor and dignity than keeping it in your pants. We got a sexually circumspect and seemingly dimwitted goofball who made America the laughingstock of the world with his two disastrous wars, and the man who presided over the total collapse of the economy. At least, unlike Johnson and Grant, he didn’t drink. Maybe that counts for something.

Richard Nixon should have been impeached. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed he broke all sorts of actual laws, but before the House could pass the articles of impeachment they were drawing up, Nixon resigned. He knew that this wasn’t political – this was the real thing. Members of his own party showed up at the White House and told him it was time for him to go away. The Senate would certainly convict him – they themselves couldn’t vote to acquit him because he had broken the law, and he’d ruin everything for the party if he stayed to fight this losing battle. He understood. Richard Nixon, the only president who should have been impeached, wasn’t.

Now it’s Obama’s turn, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza sums up the political situation:

Reports are rampant that President Obama will sign an executive order as soon as this week that will allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation. Signing such an order would have explosive political consequences – it would not only reshape the near-term fights in Congress but also have a potentially profound effect on the two parties’ national coalitions heading into the 2016 election and beyond.

Republicans have made it clear that if Obama goes forward, it would be the equivalent of giving the middle finger to their incoming majority – and, by extension, the American public, which helped the GOP gain seats in the House and Senate on Nov. 4.

At a news conference held the day after the midterm elections, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming Senate majority leader, compared Obama’s signing of an executive order on immigration to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama will “burn himself” if he moves forward.

They could impeach him, you know, but the reality is this:

Obama knows that. And it would seem he doesn’t care. Or rather, he has made the calculation that the chances of genuine bipartisanship on virtually anything was so low in the first place that it didn’t make sense not to do what he believes is the right thing. The post-grand-bargain-collapse version of Obama is far less willing to extend his hand to Republicans – having, in his estimation, had it bitten so many times before. He views the “now the well is poisoned” point being made by Republicans as laughable.

Then there is the political calculus Obama is making as it relates to his own party. His decision to postpone the signing of the executive order until after the 2014 elections was a clear bow to Democratic senators seeking reelection in Republican (or at least Republican-leaning) states, who fretted that such a move would doom their chances.

They lost anyway, so now it’s time to do the right thing:

With a Republican Party with which he believes he cannot deal in any meaningful way and a timid congressional Democratic Party (in his estimation), Obama’s decision is a simple one: This is good policy and, in the long term – maybe in the short term, too – good politics.

For Obama, signing an executive order such as this one – in addition to his move on DREAMers during the 2012 campaign – would cement him as the first president who succeeded in bringing the millions of people living in the shadows into the light. For someone who, rightly, sees the possibility of major legislative action on any of his priorities in the final two years of his presidency as a pipe dream, making such a move on immigration is his best/only way to build out a pillar of his second-term legacy.

He can do this, and he’s sort of daring the Republicans to impeach him over it, because they’ll be sorry if they do:

Remember that in the wake of Romney’s defeat, the Republican National Committee commissioned an autopsy to diagnose what went wrong – and what it needed to do to fix it. One of the central conclusions of that document was that Republicans had to be for some sort of comprehensive immigration reform to take that issue off the table for Hispanics and allow the GOP to talk to that community about other things. …

Obama is moving a major chess piece on the board with his planned executive order. Republicans must be careful with their countermove. It will have implications that last well beyond 2014 – or even 2016.

And this is not without precedent:

In 1986, Congress and Reagan enacted a sweeping overhaul that gave legal status to up to 3 million immigrants without authorization to be in the country, if they had come to the U.S. before 1982. Spouses and children who could not meet that test did not qualify, which incited protests that the new law was breaking up families.

Early efforts in Congress to amend the law to cover family members failed. In 1987, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner announced that minor children of parents granted amnesty by the law would get protection from deportation.

Spouses and children of couples in which one parent qualified for amnesty but the other did not remained subject to deportation, leading to efforts to amend the 1986 law.

In a parallel to today, the Senate acted in 1989 to broaden legal status to families but the House never took up the bill. Through the INS, Bush advanced a new “family fairness” policy that put in place the Senate measure. Congress passed the policy into law by the end of the year as part of broader immigration legislation.

“It’s a striking parallel,” said Mark Noferi of the pro-immigration American Immigration Council. “Bush Sr. went big at the time. He protected about 40 percent of the unauthorized population. Back then that was up to 1.5 million [people]. Today that would be about 5 million.”

But a lawyer who worked on the 1986 law and the 1990 follow-up as an aide to then-Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., said Bush’s action wasn’t controversial because it came after lawmakers had made it clear they were going to tackle the issue.

Who thinks this Congress is going to tackle this issue, or any other for that matter? Maybe that doesn’t matter, as Talking Points Memo reports:

Add Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) charges forward in saying that if President Barack Obama takes executive action to slow deportations of undocumented immigrations he will have performed an impeachable offense. The idea is spreading quickly.

“Well, Charles Krauthammer was asked that same question and I think, just recently on one of the news programs and I have to agree with him of course it would be,” Salmon said on Newsmax TV.

Even Salmon, though, admitted that impeaching Obama wouldn’t be easy.

“But committing an impeachable offense and getting, ya know, the two-thirds in the Senate to convict are two different stories,” Salmon added. “So, I mean, we have to play the hand that we are dealt right now.”

Salmon’s comments, flagged by Buzzfeed on Friday, are actually the latest in a list of Republicans who have made the same argument. Before Salmon conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer also suggested that a possible Obama executive action move on immigration would be “an impeachable offense.”

A day earlier Breitbart’s Caroline May reported that Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) also suggested that impeachment should be an option if Obama takes executive action.

“To me a constitutional question means that we have the option of impeachment,” Jones said.

The calls for impeachment (or predictions about calls for impeachment) are also reaching a fever pitch on Fox News.

Steve Benen covers the action on Fox News – but it’s just more of the same – and at Newsday, Leonard Pitts says go ahead and impeach the guy:

You have already floated many rationales for doing so. You’ve wanted to impeach him both for things he’s done and for things you only think he’s done: failing to protect the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi; trading Taliban fighters for a captured American soldier; passing and tweaking legislation – the Affordable Care Act – you dislike; making unconstitutional appointments to executive branch offices. You’ve also wanted to impeach him for things he’s only been reported to be thinking about: sending troops to Syria or using executive orders to change the immigration system.

Pick one of those. Or just impeach him for being from Kenya. At this point, does the rationale even matter?

Hell, it will be good for America:

The U.S. electorate, after all, has a short memory and shorter attention span. It periodically needs what you have periodically provided and what impeachment proceedings would provide yet again: a reminder that something has gone awry in the Grand Old Party. It is no longer the party of Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan, nor the party of George H. W. Bush nor even the party of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, your 1996 standard-bearer who said in April, “I thought I was a conservative, but we’ve got some in Congress now who are so far right they’re about to fall out of the Capitol.”

The ever-blunt Dole was only saying what other GOP elders and other concerned observers have been saying for years: You have become an outlier, a haven for cranks and extremists.

Just go for it:

You’ve refused to accept the legitimacy of his presidency, though he was twice elected without Supreme Court help. You’ve supported false theories of foreign birth. You’ve damaged the nation’s credit rating rather than pass a routine debt authorization. You’ve killed your own legislation when you learned that he supported it. You’ve made compromise a curse word. You’ve raised obstruction to high art and made getting nothing done a badge of perverse honor.

Yet, you haven’t managed to get rid of him. What’s left except the ultimate sanction? So for yourself and for the rest of us, please put up or shut up.

Pitts is a bit over the top, but it wasn’t so long ago that the Republicans wanted to talk to America about all the details of oral sex, endlessly, or so it seemed. They seemed obsessed with it, and that called in question just who the dirty old men were here. There is also the matter of executive orders. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order. Should Lincoln have been impeached? FDR created the Works Progress Administration – the WPA – by executive order. Should he have been impeached over all the roads and bridges and dams and public buildings we’re still using? Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Services by executive order. Should he have been impeached for that?

There is, however, an alternative to impeachment:

One Republican leader on Sunday held open the possibility that his party could move to shut down the government in an attempt to stop President Barack Obama from taking executive action on immigration policy.

A vocal group of conservatives in the House of Representatives is pressing to use government funding as leverage to prevent any White House moves that would allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay and work in the United States.

That didn’t go well last time. They shut down the government not so long ago for almost two weeks, to force Obama to end Obamacare, pissing off everyone, and then gave up, because they were pissing off everyone, and got nothing from Obama. Ted Cruz led that effort and pissed off his own party. They won’t go there again:

Several Republicans, including some in leadership, have said they were trying to find alternatives that would stop short of directly threatening a government shutdown, and Republican lawmakers on Sunday talk shows acknowledged that the shutdown threat was a less than ideal approach.

“It doesn’t solve the problem. But look, we’re having those discussions… We’re going to continue to meet about this. I know the House leaders are talking about, the Senate leaders are talking about it,” said South Dakota Republican John Thune, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, on “Fox News Sunday”.

“Republicans are looking at different options about how best to respond to the president’s unilateral action, which many people believe is unconstitutional, unlawful action on this particular issue.”

They know better now:

“I think the president wants a fight. I think he’s actually trying to bait us into doing some of these extreme things that have been suggested. I don’t think we will,” Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole said on ABC’s “This Week”.

Cole said a shutdown was an inappropriate tool and urged a legal challenge to Obama’s action.

Yeah, they could file a lawsuit and see if this Supreme Court would finally rule that all executive orders are unconstitutional, that administering the law should be the prerogative of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, charged with administering the laws. Maybe we shouldn’t have an executive branch, or, alternatively, Congress could do something:

Democratic Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said House Speaker John Boehner could move on the immigration bill already passed by the Senate, whose control Republicans gain next year as a result of this month’s elections.

“The message of the last election was, ‘solve problems, don’t just go to a political standoff, do something,’” Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “If the Republicans fail to do it, then the president will act and I will support it.”

Jonathan Chait hones in on the essential problem here:

In the wake of the midterm elections, Republicans said they would prove they could govern. This did not, in contrast to the flickering hopes of bipartisans, mean that they would start passing business-friendly reform bills that Obama would sign. It meant they would keep the kooks locked in the basement. Republicans had swept the elections by making politics boring, relentlessly policing their nominees from uttering any controversial statements, and grinding Washington to a halt. The Republican plan for the next two years was continued, boring gridlock. No shutdowns, no impeachment.

That didn’t work:

The cycle of events was set off by President Obama snubbing the traditional ritual of penitence at his post-midterm press conference, crediting the Republicans with merely a “good night” rather than supplying them with a brandable term like “thumpin’” or “shellacking,” and generally acting un-chastened. He followed this up with a series of steps that displayed a desire to continue acting like the president rather than waiting quietly for his term to end: He endorsed vigorous support for net neutrality, secured a major climate agreement with China, and plans a major liberalization of immigration law through executive action.

They didn’t expect that, and now they’re stuck:

Further inflaming conservative suspicions is the fact that John Boehner wants very badly to pass immigration reform. (Though not badly enough to bring a bill to the House floor.) In a post-election meeting with Obama, Boehner reportedly pleaded for one more chance to pass a bill and even seemed to tacitly accept that Obama would act on his own if that failed…

Boehner is attempting to channel the conservative backlash into a lawsuit against Obama, which stands little chance of succeeding, and would helpfully divert conservative anger away from high-profile political channels. Conservatives, dissatisfied with this probably symbolic measure, are organizing to instead instigate a shutdown fight.

Good luck with that:

The conflict centers on how Congress decides to fund the continued operations of the government. Republican leaders had hoped to pass a year-long bill to keep the government open. Ultraconservative dissidents have instead proposed a short-term bill, which would allow Republicans to come back and attach conditions (weakening Obama’s authority to regulate the environment and revamp immigration enforcement) to any bill to keep the government open. A bill that prevents a shutdown for a year, argues a National Review editorial, “would surrender all leverage Republicans have with government funding.”

That a shutdown gives Republicans any actual leverage, as opposed to imagined leverage, is another right-wing fantasy. It is now fairly well-established that the sole impact of a government shutdown is to make the public hate the party that controls Congress. The gun the conservatives are holding is pointed at their own head.

Forget that. There’s always impeachment:

In recent days, one can detect a slow tectonic shift, as Republicans edge away from lamenting their inability to impeach Obama to longing for the prospect. Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most influential Republican intellectual in America, wrote a column several months ago calling Obama’s immigration plan “impeachment bait.” It was something deviously conceived to lure Republicans into a reaction that would “likely backfire.”

Last night Krauthammer returned to the subject of impeachment. He is now salivating at that juicy, delicious bait…

That’s absurd, and depressing:

Influential as Krauthammer is, his turnabout hardly commits the party to impeachment, or even a shutdown. These remain more like suicidal gestures by the activist right than serious attempts to commit party suicide. But it is already clear, just days after the election, that contrary to the fondest hopes of Boehner and McConnell, the kooks will not be going quietly.

Of course they won’t. They will demand a government shutdown, which will change nothing and make the party reviled again, and not for just a few weeks this time, or demand articles of impeachment, in spite of how badly that went last time, while Boehner and McConnell try to talk them down, which never seems to work. Obama and the Democrats can sit back and watch them implode again. As much as Obama loves Abraham Lincoln, he’s no Lincoln – but he’s not Andrew Johnson either. This immigration thing is his Emancipation Proclamation.

Posted in Government Shutdown, Immigration Reform, Impeachment, Obama Acting Unilaterally | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Give Them What They Need But Don’t Seem To Want

Eat your spinach! Yeah, kids don’t know what’s good for them – they want pizza or something vaguely like a hamburger, from McDonalds or some such place, with fries and a shake. They also don’t want to be yelled at. They have to be tricked into eating their spinach, which is why those of us who grew up in the fifties were suspicious of those Popeye cartoons. Popeye would be getting the crap beat out of him by Bluto, who was about to ravish Olive Oil – a female character of dubious charm – and Popeye would somehow come up with a can of spinach, from who knows where, rip off the top, pour that spinach down his throat, and immediately turn into a muscle-man and beat the crap out of Bluto. Olive Oil would swoon in admiration. The secondary character, Wimpy, was the one who ate hamburgers, and he was a pathetic nothing. Surely this was a parable of sorts – the Allegory of Spinach – but it seemed as if it was part of a ruse cooked up by the mothers of America, a manipulative deception to get kids to do the right thing. Superman didn’t eat spinach. Hell, Superman didn’t eat, as far as anyone could tell. We were being had. We knew it. We stuck around for the violence.

Then we grew up, but retained a certain resentment of people thinking we were too stupid to know what was good for us, or too childish (or childlike) to know. We would now, as adults, resent anyone trying to fool us, even if it was for our own good, and even if we knew perfectly well it was for our own good. That explains the current outrage about Obamacare playing out mainly on Fox News, where the median age of the network’s viewers is 68.8 and Bill O’Reilly’s median viewer is 72 – the kids who grew up wondering what that Popeye crap was about. Here we go again. Once again someone seems to have decided that we’re too stupid to know what’s good for us:

Three years ago, as President Obama fought for reelection, his team was more than happy to have Jonathan Gruber, a well-known Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, mouthing off.

Mr. Gruber, a health care expert who helped develop Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts and later was a consultant for Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act, was no stranger to the pundit circuit, and repeatedly called attention to the similarities between the two plans – a politically helpful fact for the Obama 2012 campaign.

“They’re the same bill,” Mr. Gruber declared once, adding an expletive before the word “bill.”

But now, Mr. Gruber’s bluntness is clearly less appreciated by those in the West Wing, thanks to the emergence of a series of videos that show Mr. Gruber calling the American public “stupid” and suggesting that the president’s health care law passed by fooling Americans about how it works.

He admits that:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” Mr. Gruber said in October 2013, referring to the Congressional Budget Office. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Make it seem really subtle and complicated and people will just give up and go along with it? That seems to be the general idea, and the White House wasn’t happy:

Josh Earnest, the president’s press secretary, said he disagreed “vigorously with that assessment,” and insisted that the “process associated with the writing and passing and implementing of the Affordable Care Act has been extraordinarily transparent.”

In short, it was subtle and complicated. No one lied about anything or hid anything, and the walk-back began:

Mr. Gruber, an unabashed supporter of the Affordable Care Act, has expressed regret about his comments, telling MSNBC that he was “speaking off the cuff” and that he “spoke inappropriately” at the academic conference where the video was taken. In an email on Friday, Mr. Gruber declined to comment further.

Yeah, but now there’s a fifth videotape – so he said pretty much the same thing, off the cuff, over and over – and the Republicans pounced:

Republican lawmakers, Tea Party activists and conservative pundits have declared Mr. Gruber to be their new truth-teller, using the videos as contemporaneous evidence that their own critiques of the health care law were supported, even by the most ardent backers of the president’s efforts.

A Twitter post on Friday from Speaker John A. Boehner said simply: “Arrogance + deception = #Obamacare.” A news release from the Tea Party Express said that “Gruber oozes the elitist arrogance of the Obama administration that thinks their ‘superior’ Ivy League backgrounds will allow them to pull the wool over our eyes.”

And Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on Twitter on Friday that “Jonathan Gruber said what most Americans recognize: that #Obamacare was sold on a lie.” The post linked to a news article with the headline: “ObamaCare Architect Thinks You’re Stupid.”

Yep, those arrogant bastards with their so-called superior Ivy League backgrounds are sneering at the good hardworking folks who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, who are the ones who always know what’s what. Technically, MIT is not part of the Ivy League at all – MIT is a few miles down the road from Harvard and full of nerds, not the children of privilege – but if you’re going to stir up redneck class resentment, details hardly matter. People drive Volvos in Cambridge – enough said. They probably watch obscure French movies too, and you can be damned sure they don’t listen to country music about pick-up trucks and heartache, the music of America. This was a gift to the Republicans, and so was this:

Mr. Gruber also made headlines in July when a video surfaced that showed him agreeing that the health care law’s tax subsidies were supposed to go only to states that set up their own health exchanges. Thirty-seven states chose not to. That put Mr. Gruber on the opposite side of the White House in a lawsuit that is heading to the Supreme Court.

He said at the time that he “made a mistake in some 2012 speeches,” and reaffirmed his belief that the law’s tax subsidies are proper and constitutional. But Republicans have decided to believe what they see on the videos.

“The epic search of the Greek philosopher Diogenes for an honest man is finally over,” Rich Lowry wrote in National Review on Friday. “His name is Jonathan Gruber.”

Good hardworking folks who dropped out of school in the eighth grade have no idea who Diogenes was, but they can look him up, but something strange is going on here, as Slate’s John Dickerson explains:

Before he was causing problems for the Obama administration, the Obama team was using Gruber to unsettle Mitt Romney. In the 2012 campaign, Obama’s camp was claiming that the Massachusetts health care plan was the intellectual model for Obamacare, just as Romney was trying to disavow it. Gruber was essential to this case. In a video produced by the Obama campaign celebrating the anniversary of “Romneycare,” Gruber says, “I helped Gov. Romney develop his health care reform or Romneycare, before going down to Washington to help President Obama develop his national version of that law.” The spot includes old footage of Romney thanking Gruber for his work on the Massachusetts health bill. “The core of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare and what we did in Massachusetts are identical,” Gruber says. The MIT professor was such an important part of the creation of Obamacare that his association with Romney’s effort proved the link between the two programs. If that involvement in Obamacare was sufficient to condemn Romney in 2012, it’s sufficient enough for Republicans to raise it now over Gruber’s claims about the Affordable Care Act.

Romney won’t be running for president now. He’s on tape praising the guy who called Americans stupid, and there is that other matter that’s Obama’s problem:

Gruber’s name came up earlier this year in another skirmish over the law. In yet another talk, he suggested that the Affordable Care Act was written so that states that didn’t set up insurance exchanges would not also get tax credits. “If you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits,” he said. (He since has said that he was speaking off the cuff and didn’t mean to say what he said.) That’s a key argument in the Supreme Court case against the law in which plaintiffs argue that the subsidies that go to states with federal exchanges are illegal.

Still, Dickerson is willing to cut the guy some slack:

One possible defense of Gruber that can be made is that he was merely describing a truth both parties know: that in order to achieve policy objectives, laws have to be written in convoluted ways to avoid political traps, including a politically bad assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. Also, what Gruber describes was a part of the open policy debate surrounding the law. That would return a conversation that is about duplicity back into one about policy differences. The law wasn’t trying to fool the American people, just the Congressional Budget Office.

But that’s not much of a case. Given how often the administration has used the Congressional Budget Office as metaphysical guarantors of truth, this argument just lands you back into hoodwink territory. If the Congressional Budget Office is an institution of such solemnity, why would you want to trick its analysts? The better defense is the one the White House is giving, which is that millions of people are now covered by the law and they seem to like it.

The country ate its spinach and damn, it was good for them, but now that doesn’t matter:

As Republicans try to dismantle the Affordable Care Act from their new position of power in Congress, Gruber will become an oft-cited Oracle of Obamacare. But he confirms a broader critique that conservatives have of the president, which is that he either cynically thinks people can be fooled or he thinks people aren’t smart enough to know what’s good for them. That means we’re likely to hear Gruber’s name in debates over issues like immigration, in which he has played no role at all.

There’s a new meme out there, and Peter Suderman expresses it:

For one thing, it is an explicit admission that the law was designed in such a way to avoid a CBO score that would have tanked the bill. Basically, the Democrats who wrote the bill knowingly gamed the CBO process.

It’s also an admission that the law’s authors understood that one of the effects of the bill would be to make healthy people pay for the sick, but declined to say this for fear that it would kill the bill’s chances. In other words, the law’s supporters believed the public would not like some of the bill’s consequences, and knowingly attempted to hide those consequences from the public.

Most importantly, however, it is an admission that Gruber thinks it’s acceptable to deceive people if he believes that’s the only way to achieve his policy preference.

Philip Klein is more succinct:

Gruber, in a moment of candor, acknowledged what has always been true about Obamacare and liberalism – that the masses have to be tricked into ceding control to those who know what’s best for them.

Tyler Cowen pushes back:

It’s a healthy world where academics can speak their minds at conferences and the like without their words becoming political weapons in a bigger fight. Or how about blogs – do we want a world where no former advisor can write honestly about the policies of an administration? I’ve disagreed with Gruber from the beginning on health care policy and I thought his ObamaCare comic book did the economics profession – and himself – a disservice. But I’m simply not very interested in his proclamations on tape, which as far as I can tell are mostly correct albeit overly cynical. (If anything he is overrating the American voter – most people weren’t even paying close enough attention to be tricked.)

Kevin Drum weighs in:

First, he noted that it was important to make sure the mandate wasn’t scored as a tax by the CBO. Indeed it was, and this was a topic of frequent discussion while the bill was being debated. We can all argue about whether this was an example of the CBO scoring process being gamed, but it has nothing to do with the American voter. Rather, it has everything to do with the American congressman, who’s afraid to vote for anything unless it comes packaged with a nice, neat bow bearing an arbitrary, predetermined price tag.

As for risk-rated subsidies, I don’t even know what Gruber is talking about here. Of course healthy people pay in and sick people get money. It’s health insurance. That’s how it works. Once again, this was a common topic of discussion while the bill was being debated – in fact, one that opponents of the bill talked about constantly. They complained endlessly that healthy young people would pay relatively higher rates than they deserved, while older, sicker people would get a relative break on their premiums. This was no big secret, but the bill passed anyway.

Brian Beutler is on the same page:

Nearly everyone who’s attacking Gruber as if he were a White House political employee or a Democratic senator is simultaneously trying to require the Congressional Budget Office to say that tax cuts pay for themselves…

The people who brought you the phony arithmetic of the Bush tax cuts and Medicare Part D and the self-financing Iraq war are upset about the ACA, which is genuinely fiscally sound. By any reasonable standard, ACA respected budgetary constraints much better than most other laws. That the authors took pains to meet concrete budgetary goals actually underscores the point that they took CBO and budgetary questions in general very seriously. If they didn’t take CBO seriously, they could’ve just ignored it, or fired the messenger.

That’s what the George W. Bush administration threatened to do when the chief Medicare actuary prepared to say the Part D drug benefit would cost more than the White House was letting on.

Jonathan Chait suggests a poor choice of words:

“Stupidity” is unfair. Ignorance is a more accurate term. Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare – most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating.

Since people know so little about public policy in general and healthcare policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences.

Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

Yep, no one wants to eat their spinach, but Andrew Sullivan is still unhappy:

I actually think this makes it worse. The only reason Americans are ignorant about the ACA is that they were never clearly told what it was designed to achieve and how it would work. The debate was had among elites, using often technical language – who really knows what a vague “public option” means, for example? – and then sold to the public with either blanket reassurances (if you have an insurance policy, you can keep it) or terror stories about a government take-over (which it wasn’t). The reason for this failure by both sides to lay out the actual plan in ways anyone could understand was political. Neither side wanted a free-wheeling debate with unknown consequences; one was aiming for passage (something never achieved before), and the other was rooting for failure (for rank partisan reasons). Neither side was really interested in a real debate about the pros and cons.

Sullivan thinks that’s the real problem here:

This remains a huge disservice to democracy and it helps explain why our elites are so despised. I mean: why couldn’t Obama or leading Democrats actually make the simple case – we’re going to give subsidies to the working poor to get private health insurance and force insurers to take anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions. We’re going to make this affordable for the insurance companies by mandating that everyone get insurance, thereby including more young and healthy people in the risk pool to offset the costs of the sick. And we’re going to make sure that insurance is better than in the past, and is not subject to lifetime caps or getting booted off the minute you get sick.

That wasn’t that hard, was it?

Most people understand that there are trade-offs in life; most people have insurance of one sort or another and are cognizant of how insurance works – the bigger the pool the better. And to my mind, the trade-offs are worth it. If someone were willing to explain the ACA in simple, clear and honest terms, I think most Americans would back it. What’s maddening is that American politicians never speak this way. A proposal is either all honey or all vinegar. And each side assumes that that’s the only kind of argument Americans are prepared or able to understand. So, it isn’t really ignorance that’s the problem – because that can be fixed. It really is a cynical assumption of most Americans’ stupidity.

That is how things seem to work:

The Republicans are shameless in their deployment of this – Tax cuts always good! No trade-offs ever! But so too are the Democrats. There really is a mentality out there that sees politics as finding a way to deceive voters to give them what they need but for some inexplicable reason don’t actually want. They really do treat people as if they were stupid. If some smidgen of honesty could be used against a politician in a sound-bite, he’d prefer bullshit. The most obvious example was Obama’s categorical pledge that no one with insurance would ever be forced to change – even though the minimal benefits of an ACA plan were greater than those in many existing private sector plans. You can call this a lie – which it was – or you can call it a cheap dodge to get what you want with a little flim-flam. But no one would ever have said such a thing if they had bothered to make the good faith argument that change for the better requires some trade-offs, that some will benefit and others may take a hit. Obama pledged to be that kind of honest, straight-talking president. Often he is. On the most important domestic policy achievement of his presidency, he wasn’t.

This is unacceptable:

I refuse to believe that a democracy has to operate this way for change to occur. Gruber’s arrogance and condescension are just meta-phenomena of this deeper dysfunction. Someone needs to treat Americans as adults again before this democracy can regain the credibility it so desperately needs to endure.

Sullivan can refuse to believe what he wishes, but that doesn’t change matters. Because of Popeye, many kids did eat their spinach, and it was good for them – and that was a cartoon. This is too.

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Why Good Things Are Bad

London burned down in 1666 – it started at a bakery on Pudding Lane – but that was a bad year. The war with the Dutch wasn’t going well either – but we did get some cool insults out of that – Dutch Oven (which isn’t an oven) and Dutch Treat (which isn’t a treat) and so on. Humor helps, but everything was going wrong that September, and that June, across the water in Paris, Molière’s play The Misanthrope opened at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris – the play about the sour man who saw no good in anything. What seemed good wasn’t. Whatever it was, it was going to end in tears.

It was a comedy, although that irritated Jean-Jacques Rousseau no end. A century later, Rousseau was saying that the guy in the Molière play wasn’t a laughable fool at all – that misanthrope had been right about society. We can do better, but we always screw up. It’s wise to assume we will.

Rousseau was a philosopher. He knew. The French Revolution, an effort to fix what was wrong with society over there, followed, and that didn’t go well either. The Reign of Terror from 1793 through 1794 left forty thousand dead in France. Wonderful things were accomplished in the Revolution, and France ended up with Robespierre. These things happen. It’s wise to assume the worst. Let them laugh. They’ll be sorry. It will all burn down.

That’s a conservative position, or perhaps the conservative position. Leave well enough alone. Things are working fine. That’s why Edmund Burke, considered the father of modern conservatism, gave that stirring speech defending poor little Marie Antoinette – any attempt to do good will do very bad things, eventually, or sooner. You can count on it, which is what conservatives here argued about ending slavery, and then about desegregation and voting rights in the South, and about women getting the right to vote, and about Social Security and later about Medicare, and most recently about Obamacare and gay marriage. Sure, these things sound fine, but go there and bad things will follow. It’s best to assume the worst. They are misanthropes, although they call themselves realists. When bad things don’t follow, they have an answer to that too. Just wait. You’ll see. We’re still waiting.

Now it’s the environment, where something good finally happened:

The United States and China pledged Wednesday to take ambitious action to limit greenhouse gases, aiming to inject fresh momentum into the global fight against climate change ahead of high-stakes climate negotiations next year.

President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would move much faster in cutting its levels of pollution. Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cap China’s emissions in the future – a striking, unprecedented move by a nation that has been reluctant to box itself in on global warming.

The basics:

The U.S. set a new target to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping gases by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels. That’s a sharp increase from earlier in Obama’s presidency, when he pledged to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

China, whose emissions are still growing as it builds new coal plants, didn’t commit to cut emissions by a specific amount. Rather, Xi set a target for China’s emission to peak by 2030, or earlier if possible. He also pledged to increase the share of energy that China will derive from sources other than fossil fuels.

And the misanthrope speaks:

“This unrealistic plan that the president would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Just wait. You’ll see. And Tyler Cowen adds this common perception:

First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.

This is only partially a matter of lying; in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word. They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off. They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not. Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app. A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers. But they didn’t.

James West wonders about that:

China has to act on air pollution. If it doesn’t, the country risks political instability. Top Republicans have slammed the US-China deal as ineffective and one-sided. “China won’t have to reduce anything,” complained Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.) in a statement, adding that China’s promises were “hollow and not believable.”

But the assumption that China won’t try to live up to its end of the bargain misses the powerful domestic and global incentives for China to take action. The first, and most pressing, is visible in China’s appalling air quality. President Xi Jinping needs to act now, says Jerome A. Cohen, a leading Chinese law expert at New York University. Why? Because “the environment – not only the climate – is the most serious domestic challenge he confronts.”…

Over the past few decades, China has witnessed the fastest and deepest wealth creation in history, hauling millions out of poverty in the space a generation. That growth has been heavily reliant on coal, which makes up roughly 70 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. China is the world’s top coal consumer and producer. All that has come with big cost: toxic air. According to one Lancet study, pollution generated mostly by cars and the country’s 3,000 coal-fired power plants killed 1.2 million Chinese people in 2010.

That’s an incentive. President Xi Jinping wants to keep his job. Millions dropping dead is a problem there, but that aside, Brian Merchant sees an amazingly good thing here:

The two biggest polluters, who have never agreed on much of anything about climate change at all, are issuing a deal that seriously reflects the scope and depth of the problem. The agreement will have a profound effect on the international community, and it’s already sending cheers through the climate circles around the world. The two immobile pillars propping up the bulk of the world’s fossil fuel infrastructure finally feel like they’ve budged.

The challenges in meeting the targets put forward – and pushing them further – will of course be myriad. But in the face of an unfolding planetary disaster that can seem immune to government action, this deal is, at the very least, a much-needed beacon of hope.

That’s a good thing, right? In the New Republic, Rebecca Leber wonders about that:

The administration says this will be achievable under existing law. It assumes the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations to slash carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent by 2030 are in full swing. But there is also intense Republican opposition to the EPA’s plans, and to Obama’s. The new Congress is led by climate change deniers, who will obstruct the president’s plans. The next Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has suggested he will use must-pass appropriations bills as leverage to force Obama into delaying or weakening his own climate regulations.

They could shut down the government (again) over this, and then there’s the other party:

Xi may not have to deal with Congress, but China has its own challenges ahead. The next step to watch for is specific regulations and goals that are outlined in China’s next five-year plan. It won’t be easy to meet these pledges: Non-fossil fuels made up 9.8 percent of China’s energy sources energy in 2013. To achieve 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuels, China will need to add clean and nuclear energy at an enormous scale.

Nothing is easy, but in the Washington Post, Chris Mooney says that might not matter:

The experts underscore that this deal has a symbolic value that goes far beyond the literal emissions cuts (or caps) that have now been pledged, precisely because the world’s top two greenhouse gas emitters have now both come to the table. If the agreement lays the groundwork for a broader global agreement – one that encompasses other major emitters like India, Japan, and Russia – then that is the real payoff. That agreement could happen in Paris in late 2015, when the nations of the world gather to try to achieve a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Cool. This would be widespread progress, and at Bloomberg View, Christopher Flavelle, says the Republicans are in trouble now:

The Republicans’ best argument against regulating carbon emissions from U.S. coal plants has always been this: If China won’t act, what use is it? Why risk harming the U.S. economy if the resulting drop in emissions isn’t enough to slow the worst effects of climate change?

The U.S.-China climate agreement announced last night turns that argument on its head. Under the deal, China will aim to begin reducing its carbon emissions by 2030, and the U.S. will reduce its emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels – “reductions achievable under existing law.”

Translation: The U.S. can only honor its commitment if proposed regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, which aim to reduce power-plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, are allowed to proceed.

So if Republicans in Congress block those rules, they risk tanking the agreement with China, which in turn gives China a reason to back out of the deal. The EPA rules that previously looked senseless in the absence of Chinese emissions reductions are now, arguably, the single most important thing the U.S. can do to ensure those reductions.

Ed Kilgore isn’t so sure about that:

I heard Mitch McConnell on the radio last night complaining that Obama had gotten too little out of the Chinese in exchange for the terrible things he plans to do to the Great Coal Idol Mitch worships (along with the Golden Calf of political money). And if there’s anything latter-day Republicans hold in contempt almost as much as climate science it’s diplomatic agreements that bind the proud wolf of America’s freedom of action. I suspect the idea that Obama has sold out to the godless Chicomms is going to be a common theme going forward as Republicans gird up their loins to smite EPA.

Brian Beutler is not impressed:

The key thing about the “why should we act if China won’t?!” excuse is a failure of moral imagination. You only say something like that if you’re extremely confident that the world’s developing economies won’t turn around and embarrass you by seeking to limit their own emissions – that they share your particular cynicism, nihilism, or denialism.

Not everyone is a misanthrope:

It’s not just that China is mature enough to grapple with climate science and the GOP isn’t, but that conservatives are so far down these rabbit holes that they’ve convinced themselves no other rational, developing economy (i.e. non-US and EU) would treat this as a problem that needs solving.

But it is a problem that needs solving, even to the calculating, self-interested leaders of the Communist Party of China. Irrespective of the science, there was always some chance that the right’s claims about the political economy of climate change (or, more accurately, the Chinese government’s views about the political economy of climate change) would be vindicated. They have instead been refuted.

That’s because the problems that climate pollution causes are real, and even the least accountable governments in the world understand that they need to be addressed – even if not for the purest, most idealistic reasons. Once you accept the alarming implications of climate science, then trying to avert them becomes ineluctable. And the only way to explain away how wrong conservatives were here is to conclude that they had actually internalized the view that climate change isn’t a big deal, and might just be a big hoax.

Misanthropes see things that way, and in Foreign Policy, Kate Galbraith considers how things might play out:

If a Republican takes the White House in 2016, he or she could reverse or revise the executive orders that form the core of Obama’s climate push. And it’s going to be a hard fight even before the election: Republicans in Congress, newly empowered after recapturing the Senate this month, are already vowing to undercut the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is already plotting a way out of the U.S.-China deal. He immediately described it as a “non-binding charade.” He also vowed to do “everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.” Inhofe has limited direct leverage over the EPA, but the Senate could withhold appropriations to the agency.

James Inhofe is a problem and Rebecca Leber is amazed by his leaps of logic:

“Why would China ever agree unilaterally to reduce its emissions when that’s the only way that they can produce electricity?” he later asked. “Right now – and I have talked to them before, I’ve talked to people from China who kind of smile. They laugh at us and say, ‘Wait a minute! You say that you’re going to believe us that we’re going to reduce our emissions? We applaud the United States. We want the United States to reduce its emissions, because if they do that, as the manufacturing base has to leave the United States looking for energy, they come to China.’ So it’s to their advantage to continue with their increases in emissions.”

In his speech, Inhofe called himself a “one-man truth squad” – twice.

The man has a vivid imagination. This is the Molière comedy all over again, even if it’s not funny, and Jonathan Chait is getting depressed:

The Republican Party and its intellectual allies regard close analysis of Chinese internal motivations as a useless exercise. Conservatives oppose taxes or regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions, therefore they dismiss scientific conclusions that would justify such regulations, and therefore they also dismiss geopolitical analyses that would have the same effect. On the right, it is simply an a priori truth that nothing could persuade China to limit its emission. Obviously, the feasibility of a deal with China is far less certain than the scientific consensus undergirding anthropogenic global warming. What is parallel between the two is the certainty of conservative skepticism and imperviousness to contrary evidence. …

It would be nice to think that evidence like today’s pact would at least soften the GOP’s unyielding certainty about the absolute impossibility of a global climate accord. The near-total refusal of the right to reconsider its denial of the theory of anthropogenic global warming sadly suggests otherwise.

That is depressing, but Kevin Drum says everyone should calm down:

Unlike Obama’s threatened immigration rules, these are all things that have been in the pipeline for years. Obama doesn’t have to take any active steps to make them happen, and Republicans can’t pretend that any of them are a “poke in the eye” or whatever the latest bit of post-election kvetching is. This stuff is as good as done, and second only to Obamacare, this is right up there as one of the biggest legacies of Obama’s presidency.

This is, then, a comedy. The sour misanthrope rails on and on, but everything turns out fine in the end, because it was always going to turn out fine. Conservatives hate when that happens.

That should be good for Democrats, but everyone hates them now, especially the white working class. Noam Scheiber wonders what can be done about that, because they voted Republican by a thirty-point margin in the midterms:

At first blush, the white working class would appear to pose a real dilemma. The set of issues on which the Democratic Party is most coherent these days is social progressivism… But while these issues unite college-educated voters and working-class minority voters, they’ve historically alienated the white working class. …

How to square this circle? Well, it turns out we don’t really have to, since the analysis is outdated. The white working class is increasingly open to social liberalism, or at least not put off by it. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin observed this summer, 54 percent of the white working class born after 1980 think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, according to data assembled from the 2012 election. …

Long story short, there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class… The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece… The politics of this approach work not just because populism is a “message” that a majority of voters want to hear. But because, unlike the status quo, it can actually improve their economic prospects, as Harold Meyerson recently pointed out.

That’s logical, but Kevin Drum argues that it is very wrong:

I agree that social liberalism isn’t quite the deal killer it used to be. … It’s still an issue – especially gun control, which remains more potent than a lot of liberals like to acknowledge – but it’s fading somewhat in areas like abortion and gay marriage. There are still plenty of Fox-watching members of the white working class who are as socially conservative as ever, but I think it’s safe to say that at the margins social issues are becoming a little less divisive among the white working class than they have been over the past few decades.

But if that’s the case, why does the white working class continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. There was a hope among some Democrats that Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform would remove this millstone from around Democrats’ necks, and for a few years during the dotcom boom it probably did. The combination of tougher work rules and a booming economy made it a less contentious topic.

But when the economy stagnates and life gets harder, people get meaner. That’s just human nature. And the economy has been stagnating for the working class for well over a decade – and then practically collapsing ever since 2008.

Don’t underestimate reflexive misanthropy:

So who does the white working class take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor – in particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn’t matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the white working class makes it more than any. That’s because they’re closer to it. For them, the poor aren’t merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They’re the folks next door who don’t do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the white working class, this is personal…

And who is it that’s responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats! We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.

This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They’re still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It’s always someone else.

Democrats will just have to accept this:

It’s pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But it’s there. And although it’s bound up with plenty of other grievances – many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic – at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else – always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn’t vote for Democrats either.

I hate to end this with the usual cliché that I don’t know what to do about it, but I don’t. Helping the poor is one of the great causes of liberalism, and we forfeit our souls if we give up on it. And yet, as a whole bunch of people have acknowledged lately, the Democratic Party simply doesn’t do much for either the working or middle classes these days. Republicans, by contrast, offer both the concrete – tax cuts – and the emotional – an inchoate but still intense rage against a government that seems not to care about them.

There’s nothing comic about that. Any attempt to do some good in this world will, somehow, do very bad things eventually, or sooner, and probably to you, personally. You can count on it. Molière’s misanthrope wasn’t really an oddball. Things can go wrong, and probably will go wrong – unless they don’t. The problem is figuring out which is likely. That’s always the problem. People will laugh at you if you get it wrong. Then it’s a comedy.

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