Power Play

Obama Prepares Poison Pills on Immigration

Obama ups the ante on immigration and a crowded congressional calendar. Chris Stirewalt and guests discuss


"I think it's important before we let the moment pass to acknowledge that the progress we're seeing… is happening for a reason… because the president has demonstrated significant leadership on this issue."

-- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney briefing reporters.

The old axiom, a favorite of Ronald Reagan, says, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

President Obama today, though, will prove that that the inverse is also true: You can prevent almost anything from happening by taking credit for yourself.

Today, the president travels to Las Vegas where he will lay out his vision for a plan for dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Obama will make his speech the day after a bipartisan group of senators laid out their proposal for what an agreement would look like, a mix of enforcement measures and a “path to citizenship.”

(This phrase always strikes Power Play as odd since even immigration hardliners offer a path to citizenship, it’s just that for them the path starts in Tegucigalpa or Niamey after deportation.)

Conservatives are very angry over the a-word: amnesty. Conservative defenders of the idea are quick to denounce the use of the word, but the truth is that any plan that does not involve mass deportations or, famously, “self-deportations” is some kind of amnesty.

Condition, partial, etc., but amnesty still. But unless Romneyite Republicans have a plan on this subject that is politically viable, the net effect of blocking some compromise now would be four more years of, as Sen. Marco Rubio has called it, “de facto amnesty.”

Opponents may say that it’s worth waiting for a more Republican Washington to act and try to get a better bill, but the irony is that if conservatives block a compromise now, Obama will use that resistance to make it more difficult for Republicans to make midterm gains and harden Hispanic sentiment against the GOP.

The final bill may not be palatable to the right and may not pass, but the consequences of not being at the table for this one would be dire for conservatives, in policy and in politics.

House Republicans tell Power Play that they are working up a plan of their own that they will add to the mix in coming weeks and congressional aides confirm that what’s being proposed will not include mass deportations, self selected or otherwise.

Whatever is said by opponents of a deal, there is no political stomach in the rank-and-file GOP for a plan that involves rounding up Hispanic illegal immigrants en masse.

So indeed everyone is talking about an amnesty of some kind, the question being what conservatives are willing to trade in order to get behind the plan. How long is the path to citizenship? Will those not on that fabled path be subject to deportation? How can border security be measured? How much in back taxes will path-bound illegals be forced to pay? How will the use of English be mandated and verified, etc.

This is all a very tricky business for Republicans who are desperate to stop talking about the subject. The realization after Obama’s first term is that many Democrats would rather talk about illegal immigration than actually fix the problem since it affords them a base-rallying subject and a way to attack the GOP as a bunch of racist xenophobes.

In the White House version of events, Obama has already won on the issue of amnesty, just as Team Obama argues he had already won on the issue of higher taxes on top earners, the debt ceiling, gun control and so much else.

But it’s decidedly un-conservative to let people off the hook for breaking the law or to reward bad behavior. Plus, the costs associated with this legislation are considerable (of course the costs of having some 10 million illegals here is nothing to sneeze at).

So Republicans are anguishing themselves trying to figure out how much they want in return for the conditional amnesty, the president is jumping ahead to what he wants next.

Republicans see amnesty as their concession. Obama sees it as the assumption and is ready to make new demands.

According to Buzzfeed, we can expect to hear the president today explain that any law should include provisions for same-sex couples in which one partner is in the country illegally.

Now, according to Obama’s unified theory of conservatism in which Republicans in Congress actually agree with him on many issues but unpatriotically oppose him out of fear of punishment by conservative pundits and a certain cable news network, would having a big event in Las Vegas and talking about gay marriage make it more or less likely that legislation would pass?

Obama is expected to make other demands more in keeping with a negotiation, essentially haggling over how much or how little Democrats should give up in exchange for conditional amnesty.

But gay marriage is like a double poison pill here. And we can also expect to hear for the president to call for additional spending on education, etc. as part of his proposal because, well, that’s kind of his jam.

In the White House version of events, Obama has already won on the issue of amnesty, just as Team Obama argues he had already won on the issue of higher taxes on top earners, the debt ceiling, gun control and so much else. This fungible, ever-expanding mandate means for the Obama Democrats that amnesty is assumed, now the question is what else.

The president is then taking a kind of pre-emptive victory lap on immigration today, claiming credit for advancing the national discussion by securing the border and winning re-election in a campaign that explicitly called for amnesty.

The message: I’m glad you bitter clingers are starting to see things my way, now let’s talk about what else you should be doing.

This is, of course, not the way to get a deal done. The way to do the deal, according to the president’s own unified theory of conservative behavior, would be for him to be quiet.

Any plan that he likes, by his reasoning, would be automatically disliked by his unpatriotic opponents so a hearty endorsement would be bad news. The same would go for taking credit for advancing the discussion on immigration beyond nativism. And so would making demands about sensitive social issues unrelated to the larger topic.

One starts to get the idea here that Obama isn’t trying to get a deal at all. Just as in the “fiscal cliff” and the rest of his second-term agenda, the goal seems to enrage the right, divide the GOP and set the table for a Democratic victory in 2014.

If Obama succeeds, he will not only retain the issue of immigration to use as a cudgel against Republicans, who will be accused of xenophobia and intransigence… again, but he will also be one step closer to finally breaking the majority in the House.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“I think if you were the semi-official paper in Egypt and you had an interview like [the one conducted by “60 Minutes”] with the president, you would be embarrassed.”  

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.