When President Obama asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to oversee a comprehensive review of U.S. immigration policies, the point was to help give the White House options. With Congress no longer able to govern effectively, Obama wanted to know just how far he could go if he chose to act unilaterally.
In a bit of a surprise, the president has agreed to delay this review process -- but only a little.
President Barack Obama won't act to reduce deportations on his own until the end of the summer -- giving Speaker John A. Boehner one more chance to vote on an immigration overhaul. Two administration officials confirmed that the president has directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to hold off on releasing the results of his review of immigration policy in the meantime. The hope in the White House is that once Republican primary season largely wraps up on June 10, Boehner will have the political space to get something done.
It's unclear whether House GOP leaders requested the accommodation, though under the circumstances, that seems like a safe bet.
And on the surface, the delay may even make some sense. If House Republicans are afraid to govern because their far-right base won't tolerate compromises, it stands to reason that GOP lawmakers will feel more flexibility once the primary season has come and gone.
If the assumptions are true, and unilateral action from the president would effectively end all legislative prospects, there's little harm in pushing off an administrative decision and giving Boehner & Co. one last chance to do what Republican leaders have failed to do in recent years: lead and govern effectively.
Everyone's waited this long, and June 10 is just two weeks away.
But below the surface, there's very little for reform proponents to be optimistic about.
House Republicans have blocked all legislative action on immigration reform, not because they're afraid of primary voters, but because they oppose immigration reform. That was true months ago; it's true now; and it's very likely to remain true after June 10.
What's more, even if the Speaker were prepared to allow a vote on a House Republican version of reform -- GOP leaders have said the popular, bipartisan Senate bill is already dead -- the window is already closing.
As of now, there is no bill. There are no hearings scheduled. At least publicly, there are no talks underway. Let's say the White House's delay is welcome news for Boehner and his lieutenants, and they plan to get to work in earnest on June 11.
Given that the House is facing an August deadline, is it realistic to think House Republicans -- who, remember, don't seem interested in this issue anyway -- are going to write a bill, cultivate broad support for it, get it through committee, get it onto the floor, and pass it, all over the course of a couple of months?
The White House is being quite generous, indulging the fantasy that House GOP lawmakers might work in good faith towards a credible solution. When Republicans kill immigration reform again, no one will be able to accurately argue that President Obama failed to make every possible effort.
But it's nevertheless hard to escape the sense that the fate of reform is sealed, at least in this Congress.