Senior Democrats in Congress said it in no uncertain terms — if a comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t pass, then President Obama should deliver on his threat to take executive action in order to stem deportations and reform other aspects of the issue.
Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington were a few of those urging the president to go it alone. Schumer even attached a time frame — he suggested Obama make a move in October.
But this talk makes other Democrats nervous.
Some worry that if the president takes unilateral action on the hot-potato issue of immigration, it will trigger a backlash against Democrats, particularly in the midterm elections, Politico reports.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate – where they have the majority – are seeking re-election in such red states as Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Alaska.
Losing can mean losing the majority, leaving Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress.
This is bringing on some hesitation among Democratic senators to push immigration reform in an aggressive way, and to address President Obama taking executive action, and bypassing Congress, before the midterm elections.
“The timing of it is entirely up to him,” Durbin spokesman Ben Marter said of the president, according to Politico.
Instead, Democrats are returning to a familiar tactic — place the blame for inaction on Republicans in the House, where efforts to pass a comprehensive measure have stalled as the most conservative members say they will never support a move to give a break to undocumented immigrants.
“If House Republicans would just do their job and pass an immigration reform bill that fixes a broken system, then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” said Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, according to Politico.
A Schumer spokesman echoed the view.
“The president would not be forced to even contemplate taking independent action to cope with our broken system had House Republicans not spent more than a year blocking the Senate’s already-passed bipartisan immigration reform legislation.”
The White House declined to comment, Politico said.
Democrats, to be sure, are walking a political tightrope on immigration.
Activists who want more lenient immigration policies are pushing for Obama to take steps to scale back the record number of deportations that have occurred under his watch.
But in a nation with images of thousands of Central American immigrants thronging along the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers in recent months, talk about leniency for people coming without permission carries a huge risk and can provide ammunition to Republicans.
If Republicans win the Senate, Politico notes, “that would give Republicans full control of Congress and an even more powerful platform to block immigration reform. The GOP is already beginning to pounce on the issue, making immigration reform an issue in key Senate races.”
Obama has indicated that his administration is reviewing deportation policies and is looking to stem the deportations and conduct immigration enforcement in a more humane fashion.
One such approach under consideration is suspending deportation for immigrants who have been in the country for many years, and who have U.S. citizen family ties.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently said that parents of U.S. citizens or young undocumented immigrants should be granted the same protections as the so-called “Dreamers” who were shielded under a 2012 Obama administration directive.
“It would be my hope that the president’s lawyers would advise him on the broadest possible prosecutorial discretion,” Pelosi said in an Univision interview.
Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a Democrat seen as vulnerable in his re-election bid, said that Obama needs statutory authority to act on deportations.
“I’m not for government by executive order.”
His challenger, Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, said in an ad: “Washington made the mess. Sen. Mark Pryor voted for amnesty. Citizenship for illegals.”
Activists, meanwhile, say they will be watching.
Obama “has made certain promises to our community, and he has made those promises public,” said Lorella Praeli, the organization’s director of advocacy and policy. “The truth is, nothing and no one will stand in the way of relief for our communities, and we will make sure everyone is held accountable.”