As the White House debates whether to go forward with major executive action on immigration, supporters of reform are torn over whether to accept a potential delay until after the midterm elections. President Obama said in June that he would take unilateral steps to revamp the immigration system by the end of the summer. Recently, however, he said that the administration's ongoing efforts to deal with a wave of Central America minors at the border could alter his timeline. "There is the chance that it could be before the end of the summer, there is the chance that it could be after the summer," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday.
In "Peanuts," Lucy assures Charlie Brown that this time, she won't pull the football away at the last moment. Poor Charlie always falls for the trick, ending up on his backside.
It was hard not to think of the animated scene yesterday, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Congress might "do immigration reform in a responsible way next year," and this time he won't pull the football away at the last minute, just so long as President Obama doesn't take matters into his own hands through executive actions.
If the embattled Speaker hoped everyone involved in the debate would laugh uproariously at him, his comments were a striking success. It was Boehner and his House Republican caucus, after all, who killed immigration reform without a coherent explanation. Why in the world would anyone expect conditions to be different in 2015? The Speaker didn't say.
But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation's capital, there's a more serious debate underway. Benjy Sarlin reported overnight:
This was not the first hint of a possible delay. Though many were preoccupied with the color of his suit, President Obama also said in his press conference last week, in response to a question about immigration, "I've been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And my preference continues to be that Congress act. I don't think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act."
It was the first real, direct-from-the-president evidence that an announcement is no longer imminent.
So what's behind the apparent intra-Democratic debate?
The argument from Senate Democrats, which has reportedly proven persuasive to some in the West Wing, is that a brief delay would help vulnerable Dem incumbents. For Senate Dems in tough re-election fights, especially in the South, there's no upside to putting them on the spot, the argument goes, while simultaneously motivating far-right fury within the Republican base.
Note, these Democrats aren't urging Obama to scrap plans for executive actions; they're arguing that an announcement after the elections might give them a hand. The question isn't whether Obama will act, so much as it's a choice of when the president will act: mid-September or mid-November.
Many of the most enthusiastic reform proponents, meanwhile, are pushing hard in the opposite direction. The sooner the White House acts, they argue, the more it benefits undocumented immigrants who've waited too long already.
From where I sit, both sides of this debate -- executive action now vs. execution action a couple of months from now -- have credible points and I don't have an especially strong opinion about who's correct. So long as the action is on the way, the qualitative difference between September and November is probably minimal.
That said, I'd just add that if Obama does delay action until after the midterms, the odds of Republicans shutting down the government again will go down. Something to keep an eye on.