As I’ve commented before, Obama has been, at best, a lukewarm supporter of immigration reform. Given the choice between solving a knotty, divisive issue, the resolution of which would incur the wrath of the Democratic Party’s main source of financial support (Big Labor), or simply fanning a political issue that ensnares conservatives, Obama has tended to favor the latter. Dana Milbank catches him at it again:
Air Force One was about seven miles over Appalachia this week when President Obama dropped a bomb on his party. Senate Democrats had that very day circulated an immigration reform proposal, and the Associated Press, receiving a leaked copy, reported on the “draft legislation.” But as Obama returned to Washington from Illinois Wednesday night, he walked back to the press cabin on the presidential aircraft and, in an impromptu Q&A, essentially declared immigration reform dead. He said “there may not be an appetite” for it. Obama’s retreat — after encouraging senators only weeks ago to take up immigration reform — clotheslined Senate Democrats. Since their proposal had already leaked, they had no choice but to go ahead with the rollout of the plan Obama had just doomed. “I don’t know in what context the statement was made last night,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters at Thursday night’s rollout.
Milbank observes that this has left a vacuum of leadership, thereby dooming any Democratic plan. Well, it’s not that clear any of the Democrats were all that serious or enthusiastic about pushing forward. Nevertheless, the president’s cynicism in 2010 is reminiscent of his cynicism in 2007, when he helped submarine the McCain-Kennedy bill. He is, it seems, willing to excoriate conservative opponents of immigration reform and tut-tut about the nasty tone of the immigration debate but unwilling to risk any political capital to try to pass comprehensive reform. Hispanic activists — like pro-Israel supporters — should figure out when they are being played as patsies and learn to focus on what Obama does, rather than what he says.