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The politics of executive action on immigration

If/when the president acts on immigration policy, the fallout may be tricky for vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states.
President Barack Obama participates in an event on immigration reform in San Francisco, Calif. on Nov. 25, 2013.
President Barack Obama participates in an event on immigration reform in San Francisco, Calif. on Nov. 25, 2013.
The question is not whether President Obama is preparing to act on his own on immigration policy; the questions are how far he intends to go and when we'll hear the announcement. Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported yesterday that the White House is working its way through a deliberate process, launched in June after Obama said he had no choice but to work around a do-nothing Congress.

When the president vowed in the Rose Garden in June to "fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own," immigration activists were ready with their list of potential executive actions. They range from giving certain categories of undocumented immigrants temporary "parole in place" status to stay in the United States, to essentially legalizing millions more by expanding a 2012 directive issued by Mr. Obama that grants work permits and deportation deferments to young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children. The requests did not stop there. Cecilia Munoz, Mr. Obama's top immigration adviser and the domestic policy chief, has led meetings attended by White House political aides and lawyers to hear from interest groups, individual companies and business groups about what executive actions they believe the president should take on immigration.

To be sure, under the traditional approach to policymaking, these discussions would also be held on Capitol Hill. But as has become clear, House Republicans will not consider immigration legislation, so the talks have moved to the White House.
It's a reminder that when the legislative branch is paralyzed, it doesn't necessarily stop the policymaking process, so much as it redirects policymaking efforts elsewhere.
Assuming that we'll hear more about the president's plans in the near future, it's not too early to consider the political repercussions.  On the surface, it's tempting to think the fallout will benefit Obama and his Democratic allies -- immigration reform is popular and voters tend to prefer action to inaction.
But for red-state Democrats with the prevailing political winds in their faces, it's not quite that simple.
Greg Sargent yesterday talked to a source close to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) chair of the DSCC.

The source says Bennet believes the current crisis on the border should be managed before Obama rolls out his executive action on deportations -- and that this has not happened yet. Bennet also told the White House that he would prefer it if the executive action were broadened to include administrative changes sought by business, agriculture and tech interests, which could potentially build broader support.

Recent reporting suggests Obama's team is at least hearing these stakeholders out and will almost certainly make an effort to broaden the scope of the actions where possible.
But when it comes to the midterms, don't be too surprised if vulnerable red-state incumbents keep Obama's executive actions at arm's length -- since there's no legislation to vote on, the rhetoric will have little practical effect -- while making sure Dems aren't positioned as opponents of immigration in general.
Greg talked to a Democratic strategist who offered some guidance for Dem candidates worried about voters' reactions: "If we're saying, 'Let's deport criminals and not grandmothers,' that will be completely defensible."
Coming soon to an interview near you.