It's not every day that a leader can make an important, material difference in the lives of roughly 5 million people. It's what made President Obama's announcement last night such a breakthrough moment -- with congressional Republicans unwilling or unable to act, the president found a way to improve the immigration system on his own, changing the national landscape for millions of families.
"We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we're going to offer the following deal: If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes -- you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
I saw some suggestions last night that Obama extended "legal status" to undocumented immigrants. That's incorrect -- the White House policy extends temporary status to a limited group of immigrants and shields them from deportation threats. They'll be eligible to work legally in the United States, but as Obama noted in his remarks, further action would require statutory changes that only Congress can approve.
Indeed, one of the striking things about the president's speech was the degree to which he anticipated critics' arguments, explaining in advance why they're incorrect.
Republicans will say Obama's been lax on border security, so he reminded the nation that he increased border security and pushed illegal border crossings to a four-decade low. Republicans will say Obama hasn't worked in a bipartisan way with Congress, so he reminded viewers that he worked with both parties on the popular and bipartisan Senate bill. Republicans will say Obama's actions are unprecedented, so he reminded everyone that his new actions are "the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me."
Republicans will say Obama's policy is "amnesty," so the president explained, "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. That's the real amnesty -- leaving this broken system the way it is."
All of which is wrapped up with an emotional appeal that dovetails with the substantive merits: "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
Will the policy help? Clearly, yes. Is the policy fair? Indeed, that's the point. Is the policy pro-family? Obviously. But is the policy legal?
Rachel Maddow reviews President Obama's stated support for immigration reform and well-documented intention to enact changes in immigration policy on his own should Congress fail to produce a bill to do so. watch
Rachel Maddow shares images and video from watch parties around the United States where people whose lives will be profoundly affected by President Obama's announcement gathered to share their joy, worry, and relief. watch
Nicolle Wallace, former Bush administration communications director, talks with Rachel Maddow about why President George W. Bush, who was also open about his support for immigration reform, was unable to see to the passage of legislation to that end. watch
Rachel Maddow points out that while the show and the network do not support drinking games, if one were to play such a game, bitter Republican rhetoric about legislative retaliation against President Obama over immigration policy is a good place to start. watch
Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the Obama administration will address Republican accusations of overreach and overcome deepening partisan acrimony over immigration. watch
José Díaz-Balart, host of MSNBC's "The Rundown" and Telemundo anchor, talks with Rachel Maddow about the human side of the immigration issue that is sometimes overlooked amid the politics and partisanship. watch
* Gun violence: The man identified as the shooter who opened fire in the Florida State University library was a former prosecutor who descended into paranoia and recently posted on Facebook about being 'encouraged by your handler to kill.' ... Police say the 31-year-old was 'in a state of crisis' and believed he was being targeted by the government."
* Incredible: "A student at Florida State University said he is lucky to be alive after his backpack full of books stopped a bullet from hitting him during Thursday's shooting. Jason Derfuss said he only realized hours later the gunman had tried to shoot him when he found a bullet among the now-shredded books he had checked out of the library."
* Iran: "Far from the flashing cameras and microphones in Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry is going to join Iranian and United States diplomats in a final push to reach a compromise on Tehran's nuclear program, another political drama unfolded this week in a prominent auditorium in the Iranian capital."
* It was a dumb, careless, and unnecessary mistake. But given the larger context, it's hard to get too worked up about this: "The Obama administration included as many as 400,000 dental plans in a number it reported for enrollments under the Affordable Care Act, an unpublicized detail that helped surpass a goal for 7 million sign-ups."
* Nigeria: "The leader of a vigilante fighter group in Nigeria says Boko Haram militants have killed about 45 people in an attack on a village."
* South Carolina: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to block gay marriage from proceeding in South Carolina, clearing the way for it to become the 35th U.S. state where same-sex marriage is legal."
* Meet the new Senate GOP? "A week into the lame-duck session, Senate Republicans are finding all kinds of ways to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees -- even if that means obstructing their own nominees in the process."
For weeks, congressional Republicans opposed to President Obama's immigration policy have weighed their options, with many looking at the upcoming federal spending bill as the vehicle of choice. It's created the possibility of another GOP government shutdown.
But the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee today offered some bad news for the GOP lawmakers clamoring for a showdown: their plan may be "impossible" as a practical matter.
In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees.
As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.
As The Hillreported, the House Appropriations Committee issued a written statement, saying, "This [CIS] agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the 'E-Verify' program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to 'defund' the agency."
Rogers' spokesperson went on to tell reporters, "We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don't appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded."
It's obviously an important detail: Congress can't deny funds to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services if Congress already provides no funding to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Right-wing lawmakers weren't satisfied with the answer -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told reporters, "I don't believe that" -- but let's not forget that this is an instance in which Republicans are telling other Republicans what the party doesn't want to hear. Rogers, who strongly opposes the White House policy, has no incentive to lie to his party's anti-immigration wing.
So, if "defunding" won't work, "recession" won't work, impeachment won't work, and a shutdown isn't realistic, are Republicans out of options? Not just yet.
Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) deeply strange, eight-year congressional career will come to an end in January, but before she departs Capitol Hill, the right-wing Minnesotan has some more people to offend. Robert Costa reported yesterday:
In a sign of the difficulties GOP leaders face in keeping their unruly caucus on-message, retiring tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Wednesday that the immigrants given new protections by the president could become "illiterate" Democratic voters.
"The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer -- millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can't speak the English language," Bachmann told reporters at the Capitol. "Even though the president says they won't be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote."
Bachmann went on to suggest non-citizens vote all the time -- she has no proof, but she added it's something "we all know" about -- which presumably is part of some dastardly plan from President Obama.
When Costa asked why she thinks undocumented immigrants are "illiterate," Bachmann said she was told as much during a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. "That's what they told me," the congresswoman said. "Those are not Michele Bachmann's words, those words came from Hispanics who live on the border."
Bachmann added that she may have referred to undocumented immigrants as "illiterate," but that's not "a pejorative term against people who are non-American citizens."
As it turns out, she'll be able to learn even more fascinating insights "from Hispanics who live on the border" tomorrow.