White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest vigorously defended President Obama’s decision to delay executive action on immigration until after the midterms, rejecting bipartisan charges that the president was merely playing politics and trying to protect vulnerable Democrats from backlash.
The president is delaying, Earnest claimed Monday, to ensure “the solution that he offers is both sustainable and enduring.”
The comments echoed the president’s remarks in an interview aired over the weekend. Obama claimed he was holding off so that whatever action he does take is “sustainable.”
The president seemed to blame the border crisis for the decision, suggesting the politics over the surge of illegal immigrant children had become too hot – and executive action by him at this point would make it combustible.
Yet Obama, when he initially pledged to use his executive authority on immigration back in late June, originally pointed to the border crisis as a reason to act. And he blasted Republicans for using the surge of illegal immigrant kids as an "excuse to do nothing."
This time, the president is the one citing the border crisis as the reason to wait.
Earnest was peppered with questions at Monday’s briefing, and challenged on the notion that an executive action would not be sustainable at this point – since an executive action does not need the consent of Congress.
Earnest argued that “injecting” such a move into the middle of the “hyperpartisan, hyperpolitical environment, shortly before the midterms” would hurt public support.
Earnest said “there's some disagreement about whether or not, well, maybe it would help some Democrats.” But, in the most specific example, Earnest reasoned that it would be easier to tackle the controversial topic when Republicans aren’t running major ad buys on it.
“I don't think any of the Republican candidates right now are contemplating a six-figure ad buy the third week in November. Are they?” Earnest said, claiming they’d be in “less of a position to distort the facts.”
Critics, though, say the administration is the one twisting the facts of the matter.
Immigrant advocates – who want imminent action from the president – as well as Republicans – who want him to scrap plans to take executive action entirely – both blasted the president for the move to delay action.
“I think it's totally politically calculated,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told “Fox News Sunday.” “He’s made this determination that if he gets out in front on this issue, it will hurt seven to eight Senate races and he could potentially lose the Senate. I think Harry Reid has sent that message clearly to the president, which is why I think you've seen him back off of this position.”
McCaul called the decision “raw politics.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called it “simply a political move.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the biggest proponents for immigration action, complained on ABC’s “This Week” that the president was “playing it safe” and “walking away from our values and our principles.”
Gutierrez is among those calling for a massive unilateral reprieve for illegal immigrants currently in the country, something Republicans adamantly oppose.
When the idea was discussed over the summer, Republicans argued such a reprieve would only exacerbate the problem of illegal immigrant minors trekking up from Central America and into the United States.