Obama Tries Texas Two-Step on Immigration

“It’s about voting for those who represent the Latino community best. Too many Latinos don’t vote for who represents them best because of their values.”

-- Actress Eva Longoria discussing the strategy for the 2012 elections after an April 28 White House meeting between President Obama and prominent Hispanics

Far be it from Power Play to suggest that President Obama is overconfident about his bin Laden kill bounce, but campaigning in Texas? Dang, man.

Obama will head to the U.S.-Mexico border today to tout his administration’s efforts to deal with crime caused by illegal immigrants and to enhance border security.

The president will talk about the record number of deportations that have stemmed from his program targeting violent offenders. Obama may also announce that he is extending the commitment of National Guard troops currently providing logistical support for Border Patrol agents.

The border visit is a necessary precondition to the larger political gambit Obama is making: a bid to paint Republicans as anti-Hispanic and xenophobic for their refusal to accept an amnesty program for illegal immigrants already in the United States.

With Mexico continuing to descend into failed-state status amid a murderous drug war being fought among rival cartels and against the federales, now is not a good time for Obama to appear soft on border security. He has also been harshly criticized for his decision to sue over an Arizona law that requires police to check the immigration status of those detained for other offenses and for abandoning a border fence.

(Obama will also head to Austin for a fundraiser because, hey, a billion dollars isn’t going to raise itself.)

This visit is designed to provide cover in advance of a larger effort to push Republicans into a corner on illegal immigration. It will be hard to convince moderate Senate Democrats that advancing an immigration bill right before an election would be a good idea, but if Obama uses his bin Laden mojo to show he is tough on border security he might convince his party that the upside of hurting Republicans is worth the risk.

If Obama cannot just take 70 percent of the Hispanic vote next year but also drive high Hispanic turnout by having a hot immigration debate, he will help himself to Latino population centers like Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.

Given that the president’s post-kill bounce was limited and already seems to be leveling off, it looks unlikely that he will have the clout to do anything close to comprehensive immigration legislation, but he may have enough juice to use the issue to harm Republicans.

Blair House Coffee Klatch Can’t Advance Without Dem Proposal

“So let me be as clear as I can be. Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt-limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.”

-- House Speaker John Boehner in remarks on the economy at the Economic Club of New York

With Senate Democrats still in stalemate over debt, deficit and borrowing negotiations, today’s meeting of Vice President Joe Biden’s bipartisan negotiating group on the debt ceiling has a perfunctory feel.

As one Republican leadership aide put it to Power Play: “We're for cuts, they're for tax increases…”

House Speaker John Boehner on Monday laid out his formula for granting President Obama’s request of an increase to the nation’s $14.3 debt ceiling – one dollar of cuts in a five-year budgetary window for every dollar of new borrowing power.

In his speech to the Economic Club of New York, Boehner also associated himself with an argument made by Sen. Pat Toomey and other fiscal hardliners – reaching the debt ceiling doesn’t mean default, it just means government shutdown. Looking to calm jittery investors who have heard the administration warn of Armageddon, Boehner made clear that the government would not default on its existing loans but partially close in order to meet its obligations.

Boehner might be able to sell such a plan to enough members of his caucus to pass it with substantial Democratic help, but Obama can worry about those final negotiations later on.

The first order of business is to sort out his own party in the Senate. With the bipartisan Gang of Six stalled in its efforts to reach a grand bargain on debt and deficits, it looks more likely that Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid will have to craft their own proposal that could get the support of 53 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner bought Obama and Reid some extra time to untangle the Senate Democrats when he extended the deadline before the debt-ceiling impasse begins to force parts of the government to shut down. Geithner found some extra funds and kicked the deadline from July to August.

The Biden group’s meetings continue, though, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl turning up for a cup of coffee and a little parley. But until the president and his president and his party have an offer beyond the initial bid of an unencumbered increase in borrowing power, there won’t be much to say.

How Big a Drawdown in Afghanistan?

"You will have a camp in the White House that will say, 'With bin Laden gone, Al Qaeda can't go back into Afghanistan'."

-- A senior U.S. official talking to the Wall Street Journal about the arguments over how quickly to withdraw from Afghanistan

The Pentagon is in an uproar over a Wall Street Journal report about a preliminary proposal to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

But the exact number is relatively unimportant. The concept that continues to emerge in dribbles and leaks at home and in the Hindu Kush is that the killing of Usama bin Laden in his filthy, polygamous, Pakistani pad will be a strong selling point for the gradual reduction in the 100,000-man U.S. force currently in Afghanistan.

However many troops come out in July or December, the idea is for a very slow transition from the current counter-insurgency (nation building) strategy to a counter-terrorism (killer commandos) strategy between now and 2014.

The most aggressive hawks believe that the U.S. should continue to use both strategies – a large footprint of garrison troops in Afghanistan combined with covert, special operators killing baddies wherever they are found. But the war is unpopular and Americans are looking for the exits after a decade of fighting.

Under pressure from the Pentagon and national security critics in 2009, Obama adopted a double strategy – ramp up the kill teams and drone attacks but also dramatically increase the boots on the ground. Now, the emerging strategy is to switch to the proposals backed by Vice President Joe Biden and others to keep up the covert war in Afghanistan and Pakistan while dropping the nation-building strategy.

It is likely that such a strategy was part of the original surge plan all along. It has the hallmarks of an Obama plan – a little something from Column A, a little something from Column B and a slow implementation.

In order to avoid claims that he is retreating, Obama will do this very slowly indeed. It will be fast enough that he can assure his political base that he is ending the war, but not so fast as to create serious blowback. It is a frog-boiling strategy. He likely already has support from the defense community considering that Gen. David Petraeus accept the nomination as CIA boss. The focus of the fight is shifting and Petraeus is shifting with it.

The strategy depends on getting the Taliban to join the political process, Pakistan not imploding into an Islamist inferno, the kleptocratic administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai not toppling too soon, getting the scrofulous Afghan security forces in some kind of shape and, most importantly, avoiding a spike in U.S. deaths as the withdrawal proceeds.

It will be tricky stuff, but for all the months that Obama was weighing his options on the mission that eventually killed bin Laden, the utility of his scalp in selling this proposal must have been inescapable.

GOP’s Fiscal Hawks Flapping Harder

“The debate was a clarifying moment. It was like ‘OK, this is actually happening. Where are we on this?’”

-- An adviser to a potential 2012 GOP candidate talking about Thursday’s FOX News/South Carolina GOP presidential debate

After months of hemming and hawing, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took the plunge on Monday and said that he would likely announce his official candidacy this week in the form of a Facebook status update and a coordinated Tweet.

But Republican race watchers were more interested in the battle for the fiscal wing of the party. Gingrich’s stutter-step announcement strategy long ago lost interest, but the fight to be the ultra fiscal hawk in the field at a time when the party is consumed with debt and deficits is a matter of intense interest.

On Monday, fiscal heartthrob Gov. Chris Christie had some nice things to say about fellow Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana who seems to be leaning closer and closer to a candidacy. Christie had caused palpitations in the GOP when he agreed to receive a delegation of Iowa donors trying to draft him into a run, but went on radio to sing Daniels’ praises and say that he would consider making it official if Daniels gets in the race.

Meanwhile, Christie also made arrangements to meet with former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who will follow Mitt Romney and other presidential pretenders on a pilgrimage to Trenton.

Huntsman is little known to most Republicans but a gale of Beltway publicity and a huge family fortune are giving him momentum as he gets ready to enter the GOP race. He, Daniels and Romney are all looking to occupy the same part of the political terrain in the GOP and Christie’s blessing will be critical.

The good news for Christie is that the surest way to answer the questions about his own status for 2012 will be to endorse someone else and start campaigning for them.

As for the social conservative votes for which Gingrich is aiming, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s victory in the South Carolina Republican Party’s straw poll over the weekend shows that portion of the field will be very competitive too.

New Report Sheds Light on Obama Health Law Intent

“$49 billion”

-- Average annual amount of unpaid medical bills at American hospitals

The Obama administration today is pushing hard on a Department of Health and Human Services report that says that uninsured Americans leave behind nearly $50 billion a year in unpaid hospital bills.

The argument from the White House is that this $50 billion is evidence of the need for the president’s health care law, particularly the provision that forces all Americans to buy private health insurance or be enrolled in an approved government program. The report shows that even among uninsured families with incomes of almost $90,000 a year pay, only 37 percent pay their full hospital bills.

Critics of Obama’s law might point out that the president crafted a $100-billion-a-year solution to a $50-billion-a-year problem. Defenders would argue that the economic security brought by coverage will more than pay for the plan. But let’s leave aside the fiscal arguments for now.

As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond prepares to hear arguments in Virginia’s lawsuit against the mandatory insurance provision of Obama’s law, consider instead the rationale for passing the plan in the first place.

We talk about health care legislation, but what we are really discussing is health insurance legislation. The point of the president’s law wasn’t to provide health care, but instead to change the regulations on individuals, employers and insurance companies. Previous entitlements have been about access to health care, this is about regulating the health care economy.

The $49 billion in unpaid bills – already largely transferred to taxpayers through the form of existing government subsidies for hospitals in poor areas – represents America’s final safety net: the requirement that hospitals cannot turn away those in need of medical care.

For those who qualify for government assistance but don’t register or those who decline to purchase private insurance, there is always skipping out on the bill.

The consequences – ruined credit for the skippers and higher costs for everyone else – are not inconsiderable, but the truth is that currently no American must go without health care.

And Now, A Word from Charles

“You heard how [White House Press Secretary Jay] Carney tried to flip negative to a positive: He looks as if he's indecisive, but actually he is looking so deep, so long, into the strategic future that what appears of dithering is real strategic depth and leadership.

It reminds me of the crazy fanatical follower of Trotsky who said Trotsky was such a visionary not one of his prophecies have yet come true. It's about in the same league as that.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/Bret Baier.”