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Behind Obama’s political calculation of stalling immigration reform

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The surge of migrant children has now slowed, but, today, the administration renewed its request for $1.2 billion to deal with the problem.

    So how could the president’s decision to delay action on immigration reform affect November’s midterm elections?

    We explore that question with Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Journal — Report — excuse me — and Roberto Suro, professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He’s also director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a research center that studies demographic diversity issues.

    Amy, the political calculation at the White House first. What were they looking at that led them to put off any action?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, I think they were looking at a Senate that is on the brink of flipping to Republican control.

    Look, they have known this entire year that the battle for control of the Senate takes place in red states. This is the seats that Democrats are defending, seven states that Mitt Romney won. The way to ensure that those red states keep electing a Democrat is to ensure that you don’t give the Republican base there any more energy or enthusiasm than they already have.

    The president going out and making an executive order on immigration would make the base, the Republican base in those states incredibly agitated. There’s no doubt that they’d come out and vote and vote against the Democrats.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And the key states that you were looking at…

  • AMY WALTER:

    Yes. Sure.

    You’re looking at places like Arkansas, and Louisiana, and Alaska. Those are those sorts of red states. But I do also want to note that were ads run by Republicans even in blue states, especially blue states that have a low Hispanic population, like Michigan and New Hampshire. So, this could have hurt not just those red states, but across the country.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Resonates all over.

    Roberto, do you agree with that analysis and also with the notion that the issue of the youth migration over the summer really changed the political calculus?

  • ROBERTO SURO, University of Southern California:

    Yes.

    I think it’s very clear from the polling numbers, and it’s also the kind of reaction that we have seen before to images of a border that seems to be out of control. When there’s a surge of unauthorized migration, you get a reaction of anxiety, sometimes anger and certainly distrust towards the federal government, in this case the Obama administration.

    So, potentially, I think the perceptions in the White House were accurate that there was a negative reaction and potentially a larger negative reaction. It’s still a question of whether they have resolved that or not by these actions.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, Amy, and to that, there’s still going to be an election.

  • AMY WALTER:

    That’s right.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And it’s still very much an issue and the president, after all, just said, I’m going to wait essentially until afterwards. So…

  • AMY WALTER:

    Wait until at the election, right.

    Right. He can still put an executive order in place right after the election.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, how does this — how does this now look like it might affect…

  • AMY WALTER:

    So, Democrats have a 50-seat problem. That’s the Senate that we just talked about.

    Republicans have a 270-vote problem. That’s the Electoral College. And their 270-vote problem is that immigration is an issue they have to resolve if they think — if they want to win the White House back. So they have got to be able to win in states that we’re not talking about today, but like Nevada. We are talking a little bit about Colorado, New Mexico, other states where immigration is a very big deal, is a very big issue.

    For Republicans to win the White House, they have got to be able to handle these demographic issues that they lost badly in the last election. And so they can put this off. The president can put this off, Republicans can put this off, but at some point, this is going to hurt Republicans, most likely, in the long term, unless they find a way to handle this in 2015.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What about, Roberto Suro, in the shorter term, just for these elections first? Is there that — we have heard a lot of anger from Latino groups. Is there the potential for a backlash that hurts Democrats right now?

  • ROBERTO SURO:

    I think there is the potential for a backlash.

    If you look at some of the social media chatter today, particularly among the groups of younger activists, the so-called dreamers, there’s a lot of talk about demonstrations, about disrupting political appearances. It’s happened several times so far this year, and mostly with Republican candidates, but in some cases with Democratic appearances.

    And they were quite aggressive in the spring and early summer of 2012 in trying to push the Obama reelection campaign towards more generous policies. So there’s a possibility that, you know, you have a very — a small number of people, but being loud at Democratic events, protesting this, and there’s always the possibility that in a few key places where there are substantial Republican vote — Hispanic voters, you might get a stay-at-home effect this time around.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What do you think about that, Amy, the potential for — especially for keeping down the vote, right?

  • AMY WALTER:

    Right.

    So, there’s one state where this could be a real issue, which is Colorado, where we know Latino voters have been very important to Democrats. If they’re depressed, they’re could have an impact on whether or not Democrats can hold that Senate seat.

    But then you look at every other state that is up this year, you have very a small Latino population. I don’t think you are going to see a backlash in 2014. The real question, as I said, what happens in 2015? Does the president actually do an executive order, which then reenergizes Latinos on behalf of Democrats, puts Republicans on the defense once again, or do Republicans say in 2015 and ’16, we have got to handle this issue or else we are going to have a really hard time winning the White House in 2016?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Roberto Suro, what do you think about the long-term politics of this, of the issue and also the prospects for immigration reform at this point?

  • ROBERTO SURO:

    Let me just make a quick note about 2014. Latinos aren’t the only people who care about immigration.

    There are a lot of progressive Democrats who are going to be disappointed in the way this turned out who are not Latinos and who were key parts of the Obama coalition. Young people in particular have been very strongly in favor of immigration reform. And this may add to a sense of disappointment.

    Looking to the long term, there are a couple of possibilities. If the Republicans win control of the Senate, they may pass an immigration reform measure that is much less generous than the one that was passed by the Senate last year, and put immigration advocates and the president in the position of taking something, rather than nothing.

    Beyond that, looking towards 2016, if it’s not resolved, then whoever is running for president on the Democratic side is going to have to deal with it during this election process. And there will be pressure from Latinos and other pro-immigration groups, essential parts of the Democratic base, that will push anybody who’s running for the nomination to adopt strong positions on immigration reform.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, Roberto, just in a word, is there — so, the prospects for immigration — for large-scale immigration reform going forward, the politics don’t change that much, do they?

  • ROBERTO SURO:

    You mean in the next couple of years?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yes.

  • ROBERTO SURO:

    Yes.

    It’s hard to imagine a sweeping reform of the type that the progressives had advocated and that was enacted by the Senate. It seems pretty well dead until 2017, except for that possibility that the Republicans might try something, might try to create their own bill and force Democrats to say yea or nay to it. But, otherwise, it’s hard to see how comprehensive reform comes back.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right.

    All right, Roberto Suro and Amy Walter, thank

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