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Why Congress Doesn’t Trust Obama on Immigration Reform

One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

Obama in 2007 backed an amendment to sunset a guest-worker program that was an essential part of an immigration deal crafted by Republicans and former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Kennedy opposed the amendment, but Obama — who was then running for president — supported the measure, and it was approved by one vote, 49-48.

The immigration bill then stalled, and the Senate coalition failed to regain enough momentum to push it to final passage.

Obama’s behavior apparently angered even Kennedy, who told the young senator he couldn’t just parachute in to torpedo the work. But that’s exactly what Obama did. As the bill began losing steam, on June 4, 2007 the Washington Post listed the primary obstacles to the compromise, including an amendment from Obama and Robert Menendez. The next day, Obama refused to back down, even if it meant killing the bill, explaining he intended to hold up the process until he could win the presidency. Two days after that, the bill was effectively dead, though for good measure two weeks later Obama would offer another controversial amendment just in case the bill gained any last-minute momentum before that year’s congressional summer break.

That history probably explains why the White House declined to dispute the Hill’s characterization of the events of 2007–they were accurate. And each time, Obama has made the decision to keep the issue on the table for electoral purposes. Before the 2008 election, he sabotaged the immigration reform process and then ran a Spanish-language ad against John McCain distorting McCain’s record on the issue and setting a new low for the campaign’s dishonest advertising and dirty tricks. When Rubio tried to fix the immigration system last year, Obama scuttled that one too, using the issue to help his re-election campaign.

The question now is whether Obama actually wants reform since he no longer needs the votes, or if yet again he’ll stand outside the process while others are working toward a compromise only to destroy the process at the last moment. The latter would, unfortunately, be more consistent with Obama’s history.



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