Commentary Magazine


Topic: illegal immigration

Sanctuary Cities Show Why Immigration Won’t Help Dems in 2016

This week the Senate held a hearing that highlighted the crimes committed by illegal immigrants that had avoided deportation because officials in self-declared “sanctuary cities” refused to hand them over or notify federal officials of their presence. The father of Kathryn Steinle, a young San Francisco woman who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been freed by city officials complying with its sanctuary rules, asked senators to support a bill defunding those municipalities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Yet what was interesting about the hearing is not so much the slim chances of the bill becoming law. Rather, it was the way Democrats and the liberal media did their best to ignore the issue. Listening to activists that view the focus on sanctuary cities as a thinly veiled effort to demonize immigrants, the political left is still convinced that the issue not only works to their advantage but also will help ensure victory in 2016. But their tone-deaf response to grieving parents like Jim Steinle betrays a flaw in their political strategy. If the debate shifts from foolish talk about “self-deportation” to reasonable efforts to enforce the law, immigration stops being about respecting Hispanic voters and starts becoming a liability for a party that is all in on amnesty for illegals.

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This week the Senate held a hearing that highlighted the crimes committed by illegal immigrants that had avoided deportation because officials in self-declared “sanctuary cities” refused to hand them over or notify federal officials of their presence. The father of Kathryn Steinle, a young San Francisco woman who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been freed by city officials complying with its sanctuary rules, asked senators to support a bill defunding those municipalities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. Yet what was interesting about the hearing is not so much the slim chances of the bill becoming law. Rather, it was the way Democrats and the liberal media did their best to ignore the issue. Listening to activists that view the focus on sanctuary cities as a thinly veiled effort to demonize immigrants, the political left is still convinced that the issue not only works to their advantage but also will help ensure victory in 2016. But their tone-deaf response to grieving parents like Jim Steinle betrays a flaw in their political strategy. If the debate shifts from foolish talk about “self-deportation” to reasonable efforts to enforce the law, immigration stops being about respecting Hispanic voters and starts becoming a liability for a party that is all in on amnesty for illegals.

Most Americans are sympathetic to immigrants and rightly despise nativist rhetoric. To the extent that Republicans become identified with anti-immigrant attitudes, it will not only hurt their ability to win the votes of Hispanics but also alienate many other voters. But the Steinle murder and similar crimes that were highlighted in the Senate hearing shifts the conversation away from prejudice and instead illustrates the problem of a policy stance that treats the law as a detail to be flouted at will.

Some Democrats grasp the inherent danger that sanctuary cities pose to their party. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who helped make San Francisco a sanctuary city during her term as mayor back in the 1980s, has put forward her own proposal on the issue. Her bill would not penalize cities with that designation but still would force them to cooperate with federal authorities. Yet even that seemingly anodyne proposal earned her furious denunciations from activist groups who oppose what they say is its “criminalization of immigrants.” But while the left profits from sympathetic illegals such as the so-called Dreamers who were brought here by their parents, the willingness to extend blanket amnesty even to lawbreakers reveals the danger for Democrats.

The problem is that if they are so in thrall to pro-illegal immigrants that they are prepared to defend the indefensible in the form of a sanctuary city policy that lets murderers walk, they will find themselves on the wrong side of a highly emotional issue. As much as responsible observers have denounced Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about Mexicans who come here illegally, it would be foolish for members of either party to assume that there is no cost to amnesty policies that, like sanctuary cities regulations, treats the law as something to be flouted with impunity. As I noted earlier in the month, Hillary Clinton’s open support for sanctuary cities may yet haunt her in 2016. Her assumption that there are no votes to be lost in the center on this issue may yet prove a colossal mistake.

Republicans still need to be careful on this issue. To the extent to which Donald Trump uses his celebrity to position himself as the loudest voice on the right about the issue, as he did when he announced his presidential candidacy with remarks about most Mexican illegals being rapists and drug dealers, they will find themselves marginalized. But if, as party leaders fervently hope, Trump is but a bad memory for the GOP next year, the ability of immigrant groups to force Democrats to stick with them on outrageous stands on sanctuary cities may prove a far greater problem for them than the reality star is for the Republicans.

 

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Sanctuary Cities Should Go the Way of the Confederate Flag

Last month, a vile racist entered a Charleston church and murdered nine worshippers in cold blood. After it was revealed that the killer was an unreconstructed sympathizer with the Confederacy as well as Adolf Hitler, pictures of him draped in the banner of the rebels helped generate a backlash against the symbol. That strikes some who revere it as part of the South’s heritage as unfair, but they must come to terms with the fact that the Charleston massacres changed forever the way Americans think about the flag. That’s the way it is with symbols. They mean one thing to one generation but then something very different to another. It’s with that truism in mind that we should regard the current debate about sanctuary cities in the wake of the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant that was released by local police without informing federal authorities. Just as the tragedy in the Emanuel Church was the end of an era in which the Confederate flag would fly freely in public space, so, too, should the unnecessary death of Katherine Steinle mark the moment when cities lie San Francisco that have claimed to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and the politicians that have embraced the idea in the past like Hillary Clinton, need to throw the concept into the dustbin of history along with the Stars and Bars.

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Last month, a vile racist entered a Charleston church and murdered nine worshippers in cold blood. After it was revealed that the killer was an unreconstructed sympathizer with the Confederacy as well as Adolf Hitler, pictures of him draped in the banner of the rebels helped generate a backlash against the symbol. That strikes some who revere it as part of the South’s heritage as unfair, but they must come to terms with the fact that the Charleston massacres changed forever the way Americans think about the flag. That’s the way it is with symbols. They mean one thing to one generation but then something very different to another. It’s with that truism in mind that we should regard the current debate about sanctuary cities in the wake of the murder of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant that was released by local police without informing federal authorities. Just as the tragedy in the Emanuel Church was the end of an era in which the Confederate flag would fly freely in public space, so, too, should the unnecessary death of Katherine Steinle mark the moment when cities lie San Francisco that have claimed to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and the politicians that have embraced the idea in the past like Hillary Clinton, need to throw the concept into the dustbin of history along with the Stars and Bars.

In her CNN interview on Monday, Clinton joined the pile on San Francisco officials that released Francisco Sanchez, a man who had been deported five times, allowing him to commit the murder of Steinle. But while those involved in that decision bear the responsibility for what happened along with the murderer, the role that the sanctuary city idea had in these awful events should not be ignored. Yet rather than shrugging off this crime as an aberration, it is actually the product of a movement that Clinton once wholeheartedly defended. Clinton endorsed sanctuary cities in both 2007 and 2008 during her first run for the presidency saying, as Breitbart helpfully recalls for us, that “local law enforcement” should not “act like immigration authorities.” But if they had in San Francisco, Katherine Steinle would not have been gunned down.

Sanchez said he knew that once he was in custody on an unrelated crime, San Francisco would not turn him over to immigration authorities although federal law requires them to do so. That city, and the many others that have also adopted the sanctuary concept, have established policies that treat immigration laws as invalid statutes that may be flouted at will. What San Francisco needed was a legal culture that would have compelled the Sheriff’s Department keep Sanchez locked up until the feds could detain and deport him. Instead, it treats immigration laws with contempt.

Let’s be clear about what has driven the sanctuary city movement. It isn’t merely sympathy for illegals, many of which do only want to find work and better lives than the ones they left behind. Rather, it is a belief on the part of the political left as well as Hispanic activists that immigration laws shouldn’t be so much changed as they should be ignored. That’s the same spirit that drove President Obama to make an end run around Congress and grant amnesty to millions of illegals by executive order. Just as San Francisco (and ever other municipality with similar policies) effectively annuls the law every time it lets a person who should be reported to the federal government go free, so, too, does Obama’s orders not to enforce the law act in the same way.

That ought to change immediately. The death of Steinle should set off a backlash every bit as angry as the one against the Confederate flag that would force every city in America that calls itself a “sanctuary” for illegals to change.

But instead of concentrating on Katherine Steinle, to the extent that the nation is focusing on illegal immigration, it is talking about the over-the-top comments about Mexicans made by Donald Trump. While Trump’s shtick is hard to ignore, it is telling that most of the liberal mainstream media is far more exercised about his exaggerations about the crimes of some illegals than the actual murder of a woman whose death was directly caused by the sanctuary city concept.

Sanctuary cities ought to go the way of the Confederate flag leaving the idea’s once ardent supporters like Clinton as shamefaced as those that cling to a symbol of racism that has outlived its welcome in the public square. If they don’t, the fault will be with a political and media culture that is far more worried about the sensibilities of illegal immigrants than they are about the safety of all Americans.

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Scott Walker’s Flip-Flop Problem

During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

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During his first term of governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker underwent a trial of fire that few politicians are ever forced to endure. His struggle with union thugs and determined to preserve their power to bankrupt the state and their Democratic Party allies made him a conservative folk hero. But once he started running for president, some of the glow from those struggles has started to wear off. While his fight with the unions was about his devotion to principle, his push for the presidency has seemed to bring out some less attractive qualities, such as a tendency to flip-flop when pressed on controversial issues. The latest such instance concerns a conversation with a scholar at the Heritage Foundation who said Walker had promised him he had not completely renounced a previous position in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Given Walker’s decision to swing to the right in order to win the Iowa caucuses next winter, such a stance would be a problem. So Walker’s office prevailed on Stephen Moore to recant his account of a conversation with the governor and to say the conversation had never taken place. Would that it were that easy to answer all the questions that have emerged about Walker’s willingness to walk on both sides of the fence on that issue.

This isn’t the first time Walker has been accused of flipping on immigration. Back in March, I noted that the Wall Street Journal reported that the governor had told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans that he favored amnesty for illegals. That was consistent with his past stands on the issue prior to his entering the presidential contest. As late as 2013, he backed a path to citizenship for those here without documentation. But, as they did with Moore, Walker’s staff denounced the Journal article even though the paper had three witnesses to back up their account.

Walker understands that, while he appears to have held onto his spot in the first tier of Republican candidates, his path to the nomination depends on winning Iowa. To do that, he has calculated that he must position himself firmly on the right. His hope is to crush challenges from the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and, now, Donald Trump before emerging to take on the winner of the titanic struggle between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in Florida and/or a surprise moderate winner in New Hampshire in what will ultimately be the finals of the GOP contest over the course of the rest of the campaign.

But in order to do that, he needs to allow no room on his right flank on the issue of immigration. While he is as potentially vulnerable on immigration to criticism from the right as Marco Rubio (who co-sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill that he has subsequently backed away from), Walker has tried to compensate in the past few months by assuming a stance of strident opposition to amnesty proposals. But his discomfort with this pose seems to come out every now and then such as the speech in New Hampshire or his talk with Moore where he tries to assure more moderate Republicans that he is “not going nativist.”

In this latest case, no doubt Walker’s camp will accuse the New York Times of playing “gotcha” journalism in an effort to embarrass him. But while the bias of the Times against Republicans is real, in this case the material they’re working with is the product of Walker’s own penchant for hedging privately in a way that makes his public statements sound hypocritical or false.

As I also noted back in February, when Walker adjusted his views on ethanol subsidies in Iowa in the same manner, a pattern of behavior is emerging. Instead of sticking to his past positions on these issues, Walker has shown a disturbing willingness to chuck them aside in order to gain votes among Iowa farmers and conservatives. While such behavior is not exactly unusual in politicians, it is in marked contrast to the sort of exemplary conduct that first brought him to national attention.

Walker is still a dynamic speaker and has a lot of the elements that ought to make a perfect candidate for the Republican nomination. His everyman persona, strong record as a governor, and mix of mainstream and conservative positions puts him in a sweet spot where he should be able to command support from Tea Partiers and mainstream establishment Republicans, who want a fiscal conservative, and evangelical Christians who seem him as one of their own. But a tendency to waffle on a key issue like immigration is a bad sign both for his campaign and his ability to govern effectively on the national stage.

With the first GOP debate only a month away, it is no longer possible to excuse Walker’s missteps as the inevitable mistakes of a rookie on the national stage. Walker needs to make up his mind about immigration and stick to it. Walker’s flip flop problem is real. If he continues to need his staff to pressure people to walk back accounts of his flip-flopping, he’s going to find himself outflanked by conviction conservatives on the right who need no such help as well as other Republicans who are prepared to stick to their guns in the same manner that Walker demonstrated back in 2011 when he was besieged by the unions.

 

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Giving Trump the Pariah Treatment May Help Him

Donald Trump has been a vulgar, if entertaining presence in American popular culture for a generation. His decision to run for president, as opposed to flirting with the idea, this year is, as I wrote last month, a disaster for the Republican Party. Aside from the fact that the real estate mogul/reality show star is unsuitable and unqualified to be president, his celebrity and his willingness to say and do outrageous things has the potential to distract the press and the voters from his more serious competitors and turn what had shaped up as a campaign that would only strengthen the GOP into a circus that will damage it and force everyone in it to react to his rants rather than state their own positions. And that’s not even taking into account the remote possibility that his celebrity and name recognition make him, at least according to current polls, a genuine threat to win the nomination. But even as I join in the laments about the Trump candidacy and his clown car campaign, it’s hard not to sympathize with Donald Trump today. Though his remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico were outrageous, the campaign to force his business partners, such as NBC or Macy’s to drop their associations with him are so self-righteous that it not only makes even those who are critical of him feel a twinge of sympathy. Even worse, the campaign may do him more good than harm.

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Donald Trump has been a vulgar, if entertaining presence in American popular culture for a generation. His decision to run for president, as opposed to flirting with the idea, this year is, as I wrote last month, a disaster for the Republican Party. Aside from the fact that the real estate mogul/reality show star is unsuitable and unqualified to be president, his celebrity and his willingness to say and do outrageous things has the potential to distract the press and the voters from his more serious competitors and turn what had shaped up as a campaign that would only strengthen the GOP into a circus that will damage it and force everyone in it to react to his rants rather than state their own positions. And that’s not even taking into account the remote possibility that his celebrity and name recognition make him, at least according to current polls, a genuine threat to win the nomination. But even as I join in the laments about the Trump candidacy and his clown car campaign, it’s hard not to sympathize with Donald Trump today. Though his remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico were outrageous, the campaign to force his business partners, such as NBC or Macy’s to drop their associations with him are so self-righteous that it not only makes even those who are critical of him feel a twinge of sympathy. Even worse, the campaign may do him more good than harm.

Let’s start with the fact that his comments at his campaign launch about illegal immigrants from Mexico were typically over the top and largely wrong. One can have concerns about illegal immigrants and even believe that they are disproportionately more likely to be criminals than those who come to this country without violating the law. But to characterize Mexicans as bringing drugs, crime and rapists into the country along, “with some good people” was an absurd and defamatory simplification of a complex problem. It is undoubtedly true that a lot of illegals are not model citizens. But most simply come here for work and to better their lives, the way the forebears of most Americans came here, albeit these have arrived in an era when it is not as easy for immigrants to come here legally as it was in the 19th or early 20th centuries. In his defense, he wasn’t saying all Mexicans were criminals since his point was that the worst elements in Mexican society, rather than its best, are crossing the border illegally. But much like anything that comes out of Trump’s mouth, his comments were more suited to a bar stool rant than a presidential campaign.

For this he deserved and got a great deal of criticism. But, as is typical of the way our pop culture works these days, mere outrage wasn’t enough. An effort to shun Trump and to force corporations that have enjoyed long and profitable associations with him to drop him became the preferred mode of response. And, as is also typical of the way a cowardly corporate culture reacts to anything that smacks of unsavory controversy — or at least a kerfuffle — that can get them labeled as prejudiced, it was immediately successful. First Univision dropped Trump’s Miss USA pageant from its schedule, and then its parent company NBC cut ties with the star of their successful “Apprentice” series. The latest to jump on the bandwagon is the Macy’s department store chain that will no longer sell a Trump clothing brand they’ve stocked for years.

Assuming that their contracts permit it, all of these companies are within their rights to drop anyone that may harm their business, a point that makes the decision of Univision, with its Hispanic audience, seem wise. Moreover, his new status as a candidate has to complicate relationships with companies that would prefer to stay out of the political maelstrom. But the rush to tar Trump with the pariah label seems as over-the-top as his comments as well as a bit belated. Trump has, after all, been saying outrageous things for a long time. For those who did business with him in the past to suddenly claim that they are shocked about his attitudes toward immigrants or anything else is hypocritical. Moreover, it ill behooves NBC, which currently employs Al Sharpton, a man who has incited deadly anti-Semitic riots and has been branded by the courts as not only a public liar but also a tax cheat, to declare that Trump doesn’t live up to their high standards of conduct.

But the real problem, especially for those who are wary of Trump’s impact on the GOP race, is that a lot of Americans look at the effort to drive him off the public stage and instinctively sympathize with him. For those who like to be served red meat about illegal immigration and who instinctively distrust the mainstream liberal media that is leading the charge against him, the fact that the left is trying to run Trump off the stage makes them want to embrace him. Even those not inclined to cheer anyone who runs afoul of political correctness, may find the effort to put him in the stocks is off-putting when it involves business partners who have long cherished the same qualities they now condemn in self-righteous tones.

In starting this firestorm, Trump may have been, as he usually is when money or fame is concerned, outthinking the competition. He remains the center of attention, and being the victim of a politically correct mob makes him a hero to some grassroots conservatives who ought to know better than to embrace a figure that is more charlatan than statesman. This gives the left even more incentive to concentrate their fire on him since they would certainly prefer Trump to be the face of the Republican Party rather than substantial figures such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker or any of the other credible candidates. All of which has to trouble a GOP that was already rightly worried about the ill effects a Trump candidacy will have on its 2016 prospects. For the left, Trump isn’t so much a pariah as he is a gift that will keep on giving.

 

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Getting Away With Amnesty Not as Easy as Obama Thought

When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

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When President Obama issued his executive orders implementing amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants after the midterm elections, the assumption among most of his supporters and the bulk of his opponents was that there was very little anyone could do to stop him. But due to a successful legal counterattack the plan has yet to be implanted. The latest setback to the administration came in the 5th Circuit court of Appeals where a 2-1 majority voted to deny a stay of an injunction that a lower court put on the amnesty project. That means the president now has the choice of either waiting for a different panel of that circuit to rule on the merits of Texas v. United States in which the state seeks to demonstrate that amnesty will hurt its citizens or wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the stay. Either way, the case drags on. While the odds are still with the administration on the Texas case, which hinges on a technicality rather than whether the president has the power to act to change immigration policy without Congress, these setbacks leave open the possibility that the unthinkable may happen and the entire idea could actually be struck down.

The executive orders are, almost by definition, extra-legal because the president spent his first six years in office explaining his refusal to act in this matter by saying that he lacked the legal authority to amend a law on his own rather than waiting for Congress to do so. But most observers saw the executive orders as being largely impervious to protests since the president’s power to implement rules challenges or merely to order authorities not to enforce the law gave him free rein to do as he liked.

But the efforts of one activist conservative judge in Texas have thrown a monkey wrench into the president’s plans. Judge Andrew Hanen’s finding that the president had broken the law came days after the president issued the orders, and the business has been stuck there since then. Though Hanen’s injunction was widely derided at the time as a case of conservative legal guerilla warfare, the appeals ruling grants his decision a touch of legitimacy that most observers denied it at the time. If indeed, the courts rule that Obama had the obligation to go through the normal rules-making procedures that the president ignored when he issued his orders.

Moreover it also opens up the possibility that the state of Texas may have a legal leg to stand on when it claims that amnesty puts its citizens on the hook for the costs associated with amnesty that would be granted to more than half a million people in the Lone Star State alone. Can this opinion prevail on the merits all the way through the judicial system. The answer is probably not since states could sue the federal government for a host of unfunded mandates on many issues. As the dissenting judge in the appeals ruling observed, this case is blatantly political. A total of 26 states support Texas in the lawsuit.

But that’s what happens when a president attempts to rule on his own. Even if you agree with the president that a solution must be found for the illegals, that doesn’t involve deportation. The longer this drags on, the clearer it is that the proper venue for changing the immigration laws isn’t in the courts but in Congress, to which the Constitution has given the power to legislate. While the president does have the right to decide who should be deported, by effectively annulling the laws of the land without benefit of Congress or any sort of legal process undermines the rule of law. No matter who eventually prevails in this case, the attempt to make an end run around the Constitution, and have the president decide such issues on his own because he is tired of watching Congress fail to obey his orders, has done real damage to respect for the law.

Just as important, he has made it even more difficult for Congress to ever consider liberalizing the laws since arguments for reform have been hurt by the president’s refusal to abide by legal norms. The president may wind up getting away with executive amnesty, but it isn’t as easy or as clean as he thought it would be. And the close we get to 2016, the more likely it will be that immigration reform is not only finished until the next Congress but perhaps also for the foreseeable future.

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Hillary’s Foolish Amnesty Double Down

If the current objective of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is to give possible liberal challengers as little room to maneuver as possible then her remarks on illegal immigration yesterday was smart politics. The former secretary of state not only embraced President Obama’s extralegal executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegals but also went further signaling her support for an easy path to citizenship for all 11 million people currently in this country without permission. By tilting to the left in this manner, Clinton believes she is making it harder for a credible opponent to outflank her with the base of the Democratic Party. Even more, she appears to think that by doubling down on amnesty, she is guaranteeing a heavy Hispanic turnout in 2016 that will vote for her over any possible Republican rival. But as with most of her recent moves, Clinton’s strategy seems to be the product of an ill-conceived fear of the left. Though this overreaction may help the Democrats keep their stranglehold on the Hispanic vote, by going too far on amnesty, Clinton may be creating more problems than she solves for her candidacy.

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If the current objective of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is to give possible liberal challengers as little room to maneuver as possible then her remarks on illegal immigration yesterday was smart politics. The former secretary of state not only embraced President Obama’s extralegal executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegals but also went further signaling her support for an easy path to citizenship for all 11 million people currently in this country without permission. By tilting to the left in this manner, Clinton believes she is making it harder for a credible opponent to outflank her with the base of the Democratic Party. Even more, she appears to think that by doubling down on amnesty, she is guaranteeing a heavy Hispanic turnout in 2016 that will vote for her over any possible Republican rival. But as with most of her recent moves, Clinton’s strategy seems to be the product of an ill-conceived fear of the left. Though this overreaction may help the Democrats keep their stranglehold on the Hispanic vote, by going too far on amnesty, Clinton may be creating more problems than she solves for her candidacy.

Clinton’s support of Obama’s executive orders isn’t surprising. Nor is her embrace of the concept of a path to citizenship for illegals. But what she seemed to be offering her audience yesterday goes even further than the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House in 2013. That plans, which was supported by some Republicans (though many of them, like Senator Marco Rubio, have backed away from it now), did speak of a path to citizenship. But it was accompanied with penalties and illegals being forced to go to the back of the line behind those who have followed the rules. But Clinton mentioned no such measures yesterday. Nor did she mention the need to secure the border first or actions designed to signal potential illegal immigrants that they would not face immediate deportation should they be caught.

To the contrary, Clinton’s proposal seems to be Obama’s amnesty on steroids. Her talk of a “simple, straight-forward, accessible way” for illegals to not only get on the right side of the law but to also become citizens with no muss and no fuss. If implemented, it would not only be a gift to those who have already come here illegally. It would also constitute a virtual invitation for those thinking about crossing the border to do so since they would be able to do so with impunity.

Given her growing credibility problems due to the drip-drip-drip of damaging reporting in the mainstream media about the Clinton Cash allegations, Hillary knows she has to act quickly to head off a potential run by Senator Elizabeth Warren. If Warren has any interest at all in the presidency, the Clinton Cash mess has to be tempting her since it has highlighted not only Hillary’s glaring weaknesses as a candidate but the fact that her husband Bill seems to have lost some of his touch as well. So anything that makes it harder for Warren or other left-wing opponents to gain traction makes sense for Clinton right now.

But the assumption on the part of some Democrats and their cheerleaders in the mainstream liberal media that Clinton’s shift will be a masterstroke in a general election may be incorrect. Going overboard on amnesty may help generate an even bigger Hispanic majority for the Democrats and given their status as the fastest growing demographic in the electorate that seems like a good idea. But what Clinton seems to be forgetting is that running against the rule of law has its drawbacks as well. Clinton is right when she thinks independents and other voters who are (unlike most Hispanics) up for grabs in 2016 may not want to hear harsh rhetoric about immigrants or a repetition of Mitt Romney’s tragicomic embrace of “self-deportation” next year. But talk of wholesale amnesty without more border security and no penalties for the lawbreakers will strike swing voters as being every bit as extreme as the anti-immigrant tone heard from some on the right.

Just as Republicans need to worry about being driven so far to the right in the primaries as to make the necessary course correction in the general election too difficult, so, too, must Democrats be concerned about being driven over a cliff by their left-wing base. Hillary does best when she runs as an experienced centrist not a desperate politician pandering to special interests. As much as she has reason to fear Warren and the left, Clinton might be better off stopping trying to appease her base. Taking her chances on winning the nomination while concentrating on winning the general election would be the best bet for her.

Just as important, Clinton seems to have come into this election thinking that, as was the case in 2012, Democrats would be able to define any Republican emerging from the pack in the GOP race as an extremist loser, while never letting the other side lay a glove on her. But as we’ve already seen in the early months of the race, the only person who is currently being defined by opponents is Clinton. The Clintons are coming off as dishonest, greedy and possibly corrupt. Now she is adding a touch of left-wing extremism to an already toxic mix. Anyone who thinks that taint won’t come with a price is overestimating the ability of the left to win general elections and underestimating the distaste of most voters for lawbreakers.

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Walker’s Problematic Solution to His Immigration Problem

Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

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Some conservatives have been making it clear that they will not forgive or forget Marco Rubio’s past support of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That’s a problem for Rubio as he runs for the presidency even while saying that eventually a solution will have to be found for the illegals after the border is secured. But it appears that Scott Walker is taking action to avoid facing the same problem. Walker’s record on the issue was in the spotlight this week after his radio interview with Glenn Back when he not only disavowed his past support for a form of amnesty but also proposed new restrictions on legal immigration in order to protect “American workers and wages.” That might help inoculate him against the kind of Mau-Mauing that Rubio is getting from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Anne Coulter, but it raises questions about whether he is creating a new set of problems for his candidacy and the GOP.

Walker’s previous positions in support of President George W. Bush’s push for immigration reform—including the 2006 bill favoring a path to citizenship co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy—and providing in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants are not as well known as Rubio’s advocacy for the bipartisan comprehensive bill that passed the Senate in 2013. Rubio eventually backed away from the bill in favor of a position that prioritized border security. That position was seen as both the result of political calculation as well as part of the country’s reassessment of the situation after the surge of illegals at the Texas border last summer. To hardliners on the issue, that’s a flip-flop they won’t let him get away with. But the Wisconsin governor, who was flying far under the national radar on this issue until recently, is now facing the kind of scrutiny that goes with running for president. If conservatives are holding Rubio accountable for his positions, it stands to reason the same radio talkers and pundits flaying Rubio will do the same to Walker.

Walker’s plan to avoid getting sunk by the base is to do more than changing his mind on amnesty. He’s taken the most strident anti-immigration position of any Republican candidate. By stating his willingness to enact restrictions on legal immigration along some as-yet-unstated formula that would supposedly protect American workers from foreign competition, Walker is banking on the idea that this will not only distract conservatives from his past apostasy but allow him to own the issue as one that will endear him to the party base. Just as importantly, it enables him to connect the issue to his basic economic and social message which seeks to shift the Republican focus from aiding the cause of business to that of support for working and middle-class Americans who are getting the short end of the stick in President Obama’s anemic economic recovery. That bolsters his attempt to portray himself as an ordinary American running against Republican and Democratic millionaires, i.e. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.

That sounds like smart politics, and in a crowded Republican field anything that allows a candidate with a lot of mainstream appeal like that of Walker to also get a potential grip on the portion of the party base that cares deeply about immigration makes sense. President Obama’s extralegal efforts to create amnesty for millions of illegals by executive orders has also made comprehensive reform toxic for many Americans who care about the rule of law. But there is a big difference between taking a stand against amnesty for illegals and seeking to restrict future legal immigration into the country.

It is one thing to say that reform of our broken immigration system must be preceded by efforts to ensure that a solution for the plight of the 11 million illegals already here is not followed by a new surge across the borders by those seeking the same good deal. It is quite another to start pandering to those who view any sort of immigration with distaste. It is a myth to assert that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers since it’s not as if those already here are being denied opportunities to pick fruit, clean hotel rooms, or bus restaurant tables.

So long as they are talking about illegals alone, Republicans can defend their stands as pro-rule of law and not anti-Hispanic. But if Walker is going to favor new restrictions even on those attempting to play by the rules, it will be hard to argue that the point of such a position is not based on a broader effort to prevent immigration. That’s a stand that some opponents of immigration reform have flirted with before but it’s not one that Republicans should be playing with. It’s all well and good for Walker to try and stay in the party mainstream on the issue but he needs to remember that stands that can be easily confused with prejudicial attitudes toward immigrants will haunt a candidate in a general election. Walker, who has shown progress in getting up to speed on foreign policy, is a candidate that Democrats rightly fear. But as much as he should avoid making the same mistake as Jeb Bush and run against the base, right now it looks as if he’s forgetting that he will need more than the base if he wants to be elected president.

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Will Rubio Be Sunk By Immigration?

Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

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Since he declared for the presidency, a lot of the comments about Marco Rubio’s candidacy have been about the rivalry between the Florida senator and his onetime mentor and ally Jeb Bush. But the two Floridians have more than a state in common. As the pair joined the other 17 declared or potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire this past weekend for an inconclusive scrum that told us nothing about the outcome of the race, Rubio’s effort to clarify his stance on immigration yesterday raised an interesting question about both his and Bush’s chances of winning the nomination. Though it is impossible to know how a competition with such a crowded field will play out, it remains to be seen whether the willingness of Rubio to contemplate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, even in theory as opposed to actual practice in the foreseeable future, will sink him.

Rubio, who won a Senate seat as a Tea Party insurgent challenging establishment Republican (turned independent and then Democrat) Charlie Crist, saw his stock fall badly among movement conservatives when he embraced a bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013 that promised illegals a path to citizenship. The bill died in the House, and Rubio took such a drubbing among GOP activists that it appeared that his once promising 2016 hopes were at an end. But Rubio ultimately walked away from the bill declaring, as did many of his House colleagues, that a necessary reform of the immigration system would have to wait until the border was secured. The 2014 surge of illegals at the Texas border vindicated that opinion and Rubio seemed to have subsequently put himself in line with the views of much of the party base.

But though Rubio now says a comprehensive approach to immigration is neither politically possible nor good policy, he’s not willing to disavow the concept of ultimately allowing some illegals a way to come in out of the shadows. That’s what he said yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation even as he admitted that it could only happen after a “long process” that wouldn’t involve “a massive piece of legislation” that reform advocates, including President Obama, demand. However, that disclaimer may not be enough to persuade many Republicans that he hasn’t disqualified himself from presidential consideration.

That’s the gist of the abuse being flung at Rubio by radio talkers like Laura Ingraham and pundit Anne Coulter, all of which seem aimed at labeling Rubio as a Hispanic version of moderate Lindsey Graham. They won’t forgive Rubio for his past advocacy of the Senate bill. As far as they are concerned anything that smacks of amnesty for illegals, either by President Obama’s extralegal executive orders or constitutional legislation, is equally suspect. Bush, who is counting on establishment support, already knows that the party base won’t back him. Indeed, at times, Bush has seemed to be willing to run against the base in the hope that this would facilitate his general-election campaign if he wins the nomination.

But Rubio is neither foolish enough to run against the base nor possessed of sufficient establishment backing that he can afford to ignore taunting from radio talkers that can fire up people against him.

In a race in which foreign policy plays a major role, Rubio, the most articulate of the likely contenders on security and defense issues, can expect to shine. His launch also reminded the country about why so many Republicans thought he was the perfect candidate to help them break the mold of the last two elections in which the GOP seemed to be doomed to permanent minority status. The bump he received recently in the polls is an indication that he has a higher ceiling than many of those Republicans planning on jumping into the fray. But it remains to be seen whether any candidate who needs, as Rubio does, to get some share of the conservative vote can survive the pasting he’s going to continue to get from elements of the activist core that consider any leniency on immigration to be the third rail of politics.

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Scott Walker’s Front Runner Problem

In the last three months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from being just one of a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates to one of the frontrunners in the early going. Where other possible contenders are talking about potential, Walker can point to polls that show him to be, along with Jeb Bush, one of the only two candidates that is getting double digit support in virtually every primary and caucus state that has been surveyed so far. But with such a rise comes the potential for a fall and for all of his strengths as a candidate, a string of gaffes and hard-to-defend flip flops illustrates the perils of playing on the big stage for the first time, especially when you’ve been anointed as a likely front runner. Though Walker’s defenders will be right when they say it’s too early to be making any judgments about his capacity to thrive in the white hot lights of a presidential election, what we’ve seen from him lately has been troubling.

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In the last three months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from being just one of a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates to one of the frontrunners in the early going. Where other possible contenders are talking about potential, Walker can point to polls that show him to be, along with Jeb Bush, one of the only two candidates that is getting double digit support in virtually every primary and caucus state that has been surveyed so far. But with such a rise comes the potential for a fall and for all of his strengths as a candidate, a string of gaffes and hard-to-defend flip flops illustrates the perils of playing on the big stage for the first time, especially when you’ve been anointed as a likely front runner. Though Walker’s defenders will be right when they say it’s too early to be making any judgments about his capacity to thrive in the white hot lights of a presidential election, what we’ve seen from him lately has been troubling.

The genius of Walker’s candidacy was his ability to appeal to a variety of constituencies within the party. Tea Partiers and other conservatives love his stand against taxes and spending as governor as well as cheering his epic successful struggle against state worker unions. Evangelicals like that he’s the son of a minister and can speak to their concerns as one of them. Some establishment Republicans like his air of competence and support for fiscal sanity. Those who rightly want Republicans to Even foreign policy hawks seem sympathetic to him though there isn’t much in his record to justify their hopes that he will turn out to be their ally.

That’s a potent formula that makes him seem a much more likely nominee — as well as a competitive general election candidate — compared to the more narrow appeals of other Republicans including Bush who is encountering stiff resistance to his mainstream pitch on the right. But even strengths can have built-in liabilities. It’s one thing to be able to attract votes from different groups. It’s quite another to set out to pander to a variety of voting blocs. Candidates who do that are likely to get caught in contradictions or find themselves labeled as flip-floppers.

That’s what happened to Walker last month in Iowa when he strayed from his small government mantra to make an exception for support for measures that prop up the ethanol industry. Walker isn’t the first candidate to discover a new love for corn-base fuels while trolling for votes in Iowa. But that was an embarrassing departure for a man who built a reputation as someone who is willing to stand up to mobs and thugs in order to stick to principled positions.

Fortunately for Walker, ethanol is not something most voters, even conservatives, care that much about even if the subsidies doled out to Iowa corn farmers is a boondoggle that undermines the claim of Republicans to stand for small government. But his latest attempt to be all things to all people is a bigger problem.

As the Wall Street Journal reports today, Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans on March 13 that he favors allowing illegal aliens being allowed to stay in the country and to eventually be allowed a path to citizenship. The only problem is that he’s been telling Republicans elsewhere that he opposes amnesty and citizenship for Republicans. But as the Journal notes, his prior opposition to amnesty during these early days of the 2016 campaign contradicts previous statements about illegal immigration uttered prior to his becoming a prospective presidential candidate in which he favored a more liberal stance on the issue. As late as 2013, he was backing a path to citizenship for illegals. And if that weren’t confusing enough, Walker’s office denied he’d endorsed amnesty in New Hampshire, calling the Journal article “erroneous,” even though the paper says three witnesses back up their reporting.

Walker wouldn’t be the only Republican in the race supporting amnesty in one form or another. Marco Rubio co-sponsored the bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 which included a path to citizenship even though now he says the border must secured first. Jeb Bush is still advocating that position.

But the key here is to be consistent. As much as Bush’s position may alienate many conservatives, at least they know where he stands. If Walker is going to keep trying to tailor statements for specific audiences in this manner, this won’t be the last such gaffe he commits. Even worse, his otherwise bright hopes for the presidency will be blighted by charges of hypocrisy and flip-flopping. That doesn’t mix well with his tough, competent governor persona.

It may be that Walker will get better as the months pass and by the time the campaign in the early caucus and primary states has begun in earnest, he will be back on track reclaiming his image as a conservative folk hero who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in no matter how intense the pressure on him will be.

But that Scott Walker has seemed to be absent lately as the Wisconsin governor adjusts to the far more intense spotlight of a national campaign. Unless he returns, Walker’s good poll numbers will fade long before Iowa votes. Being a front-runner in March of the year before a presidential election is better than being thought of as a hopeless case. But if being all things to all people becomes your modus operandi, you’re never going to make it to the White House.

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Issue is the Constitution, Not the Shutdown

With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

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With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

While many conservatives continue to call for the Republican leadership to stand their ground against the Democrats, both Boehner and McConnell understand that this is a losing fight. Even if, as many on the right have aptly pointed out, the DHS shutdown is more symbolic than actual since most of its employees will continue to show up for work, that symbolism is the last thing the GOP needs right now.

At a time when concern over terrorism is on the rise and the country is coming to grips with the president’s inept and halfhearted approach to fighting ISIS and its allies, any defunding measure aimed at any part of the country’s defenses is political poison. Unlike the sequester that continued in place for many months with few citizens noticing, a DHS shutdown is a nonstarter. That’s especially true since it will enable the president to change the topic from his own failures and put the spotlight on a fractious and dysfunctional Congress where both chambers have Republican majorities.

But as bad an idea as a shutdown might be, anyone tuning in to see Telemundo and MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart feeding questions to Obama in order to press him to even greater commitments to amnesty policies must realize that the drama in Congress is something of a diversion from the real problem: a president that believes he can legislate on his own without benefit of Congress.

Immigration isn’t the only issue on which Obama’s imperial presidency is flexing its muscles against the Constitution. The Iran nuclear talks seem to be heading toward an American agreement to a deal that would make the Islamist regime a threshold nuclear power now and give it a green light to create a bomb in at least ten years. But the president has no plans to present the most important foreign treaty the U.S. has signed in this generation to the Senate for approval, as the Constitution requires. By not calling it a treaty, he intends to circumvent the law so as to avoid the scrutiny and the judgment of the legislature.

But it is on immigration which the president has made the boldest move toward one-man rule in decades. By signing executive orders that amount to amnesty for up to five million illegal aliens, the president has with a stroke of the pen asserted a power that he previously had said 22 times was not his to exercise. Though a lawsuit brought by 26 states against this measure has had an initial success in a Texas federal court, Obama may be right to feel confident that eventually the courts will back him up on technicalities.

But by issuing orders to the relevant departments to stop enforcing the law mandating the deportation of illegals, the president is actually setting a dangerous precedent. A president who feels entitled to state what laws may or may not be enforced is one untrammeled by the normal constitutional constraints at the heart of American democracy.

While playing to a crowd of immigrants, the president says that the changing demography of the nation mandates a solution to the dilemma of up to 12 million illegals already in the country. But whether you think that Congress is wrong to fail to act on a plan to give them a path to citizenship or not, the notion that laws can still be annulled by presidential fiat is an untenable concept that would be swiftly condemned by Obama’s press cheering sections if it were a case of a Republican undoing some liberal project created by a predecessor.

More to the point, the continuing stream of illegals over the border, lured by promises of amnesty and confident that requests for asylum, whether justified or not, will keep them out of jail, will ensure that Obama’s approach will not solve the country’s problem at the border.

Obama may be right to think he’s won this news cycle as the Republicans seek a path, whether temporary or not, to retreat from their pledges to use the power of the purse to stop the executive orders from being implemented. But more surges of illegals in the future could change the political balance of power on this issue in ways that Democrats confident of Hispanic support don’t currently envision. The only enduring values here are the defense of the Constitution and the rule of law that Obama has trashed, not amnesty for illegals. Whatever happens this week in Washington, if Republicans are faithful to that principle, they won’t regret it in the long run.

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GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

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With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

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Immigration and the End of the Rule of Law

This past week, liberals cried foul when a federal district court in Brownsville, Texas sided with the 26 states that have sued to try and prevent the administration from implementing President Obama’s executive orders that created a de facto amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants. The administration vowed to seek to overturn the ruling on appeal and many legal experts say their chances are good. But while conservatives like Judge Andrew Hanen are fighting a rear-guard action trying to stop the president’s immigration end run around Congress, liberal judges are seeking to expand upon Obama’s efforts. On Friday, James Boasberg of the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia ruled that even those efforts undertaken by the administration to stem the flood of illegals could not continue. If upheld, that ruling will ensure that in addition to amnesty for illegals already here, efforts to deter future surges across the border may be doomed.

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This past week, liberals cried foul when a federal district court in Brownsville, Texas sided with the 26 states that have sued to try and prevent the administration from implementing President Obama’s executive orders that created a de facto amnesty for up to five million illegal immigrants. The administration vowed to seek to overturn the ruling on appeal and many legal experts say their chances are good. But while conservatives like Judge Andrew Hanen are fighting a rear-guard action trying to stop the president’s immigration end run around Congress, liberal judges are seeking to expand upon Obama’s efforts. On Friday, James Boasberg of the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia ruled that even those efforts undertaken by the administration to stem the flood of illegals could not continue. If upheld, that ruling will ensure that in addition to amnesty for illegals already here, efforts to deter future surges across the border may be doomed.

Judge Boasberg ruled that the government could no longer detain illegals that have crossed the border whether or not they apply for asylum. Though the massive wave of illegal immigrants, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America, was set off in no small measure by the perception that the administration would give them amnesty, to its credit, the Department of Homeland Security belatedly tried to send the opposite message. By imprisoning those who crossed the border illegally even if they claimed they were subjected to persecution at home, the government was seeking to make it clear that those who were caught must expect to be detained and then sent back home.

But Judge Boasberg heeded the pleas of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU argued that the claim of persecution should be enough to allow these illegals the right to stay in the country until their asylum case was resolved. In practice that will mean that large numbers of illegals will be able to flout the law and stay here indefinitely, regardless of whether their claims of persecution are real or not. The judge ruled the DHS had no right to clamp down on those flooding the border because these persons’ “right to liberty” trumped considerations of national security or even the necessity to deter other illegals from following their example.

It may well be that many of those who came across the Rio Grande last summer fled difficult lives in their home countries where crime and violence have run rampant. But the notion that the low quality of life in Central America means that the U.S. may not control its borders or enforce the laws governing the right to immigrate to this country is both dubious law and catastrophic public policy.

Boasberg’s decision lays bear the problem at the heart of the debate about immigration.

There are strong arguments to be in favor of reforming a broken system. All of the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants already here are not going to be deported since the government has neither the resources nor the will to do so. Finding a solution to bring them in out of the shadows makes sense. The comprehensive bipartisan immigration law passed by the Senate in 2013 tried to do that at the same time as implementing measures to control the border.

But what those of us who had supported this approach learned last summer was that unless and until the border really was secured, there was no point in implementing policies that would resolve the status of those who were already here illegally. So long as the flood continued, amnesty for illegals would merely ensure a never-ending flow of more people coming across from Mexico. Most of these illegals are not criminals, but however much we might sympathize with their plight at home or their desire to realize the American dream, granting them a free pass would, in effect, simply erase the border. Though immigration strengthens the country, at a time of unprecedented worries about security and terrorism such a policy is an invitation to mayhem.

More to the point, so long as courts are willing to let anyone stay on any excuse, Congress is fully justified in thwarting any effort to liberalize the system.

The stakes in this argument don’t merely revolve around the status of illegals. If liberal federal judges and the president are determined to trash the rule of law in this manner, we are on the verge of a full-blown constitutional crisis. As much as there is reason to grant many illegals a path to legality if not citizenship, without first securing the border, such proposals ought to be off the table. Rather than contribute to a consensus that might create real immigration reform, both the president and liberal judges like Boasberg are creating a set of circumstances where it has become impossible.

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Court Immigration Ruling Doesn’t Solve Congress’s Homeland Security Dilemma

Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

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Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

Hanen is already on record as an outspoken critic of liberal immigration policies, but his ruling was on technical grounds rather than on the constitutionality of the presidential executive orders. With one of the programs granting legal status to those here without permission about to start receiving applications, the decision does stop its implementation. But if, as expected, the administration complies with the requirements to give notice of their procedures, the order might be quickly lifted at the appellate level. Writing from Brownsville, Texas along the border with Mexico, Hanen sided with the states that filed the lawsuit seeking to stop the implementation of the orders and believes they are right to say that the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws in a way that “drains the states’ resources.” He’s right about that, but it’s far from clear that higher courts will uphold the ruling or even agree that the states have the legal standing to challenge the executive branch’s ability to enforce laws in any way it pleases, even if means acting in a manner that annuls a law passed by Congress.

Although Hanen and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are right to argue that the president’s actions constitute a body blow to the rule of law, the administration may be right to term this ruling a mere “speed bump” on the road to granting millions of illegals the right to stay and work in the country. Though his high-handed behavior constitutes an end run around the Constitution, the president’s defenders may well be right in thinking that the concept of federal supremacy on the question of immigration dooms the lawsuit in the long run. Though House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would love for the courts to provide them with an escape hatch from the dispute over funding DHS, Judge Hanen isn’t likely to provide them with one.

That puts Republicans back in the back in the box in which they’ve been placed by Obama’s audacious decision to do what he said 22 times previously he didn’t have the power to do. If they don’t try and use the power of the purse to prevent Obama from nullifying a law they’ve passed, the GOP grass roots will rightly lambast their leaders for letting Obama get away with murder despite their control of both Houses of Congress. But if they stick to their position that they will not fund DHS without including provisions that will prevent Obama from carrying out his extralegal plans, they will once again be lambasted as a party that is stopping the government from performing its proper functions. Indeed, as disastrous as the 2013 government shutdown over ObamaCare funding was, a more limited shutdown that would affect Homeland Security just at a moment when concern over terrorism is at the top of the national agenda might be even more misguided.

In that sense, the Texas ruling may actually complicate things for Republicans in Washington. Hanen’s decision strengthens their sense that they are very much in the right and Obama in the wrong on the substance of this dispute. It also would make any retreat on the issue even more problematic for a pair of leaders who are already vulnerable to critics within their caucuses who see them as insufficiently tough in dealing with an unscrupulous administration with no respect for the law.

Our John Steele Gordon was right to point out that the engine of their problem is a liberal mainstream media that blames Republicans no matter what happens. The GOP was blamed for the shutdown in 2013 because Senate Republicans stood their ground. Today, when it is the Senate Democrats who are obstructing the passage of a House bill that would fund DHS, the media is still prepared to blame the Republicans for the consequences of their filibuster.

John may also be right that in the long run conservatives must stand up to liberal media bias and to attempt to make their slanted coverage the issue rather than lying down and accepting the role of whipping boys for Washington gridlock. But there is a reason why the GOP is always going to be blamed for upsetting the D.C. applecart. That’s because it is the Democrats who always defend the existing system and the prerogatives of big government even when that leads them to trash the Constitution. It is the Republicans who are in the position of trying to halt this runaway train. That is the right thing to do, but even the noblest cause must be conducted in a responsible manner. Defunding DHS at a time when ISIS is burning and beheading people isn’t going to strike most Americans as smart or principled.

I believe Obama’s orders have created a constitutional crisis, but it is not one that can be resolved by budget maneuvers. Nor are the courts likely to follow Hanen’s lead and stop Obama in his tracks, as they ought to do. In the end the only way the president’s extralegal measures can be overturned is by the voters in November 2016. Until then, Republicans would do well to avoid falling into traps set for them by the White House and their media allies.

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Jeb Doubles Down on Challenging GOP Base

Anyone who thought that Jeb Bush was kidding when he made noises late last year about challenging his party’s base while running for its presidential nomination better think again. In a speech given yesterday in San Francisco, Bush reaffirmed his support for immigration but also made clear that he believed, “We need to find a path to legalized status for those who have come here and have languished in the shadows.” But while Bush was staking out a centrist position on immigration, most of the other potential Republican candidates were in Des Moines attending the Iowa Freedom Summit where they were coming down on the opposite side of that issue as well as the Common Core education curriculum that Bush also supports. The juxtaposition of these two events again raises the question whether anyone, even someone as talented as Bush, can win by flouting the sentiments of most of his party’s activists.

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Anyone who thought that Jeb Bush was kidding when he made noises late last year about challenging his party’s base while running for its presidential nomination better think again. In a speech given yesterday in San Francisco, Bush reaffirmed his support for immigration but also made clear that he believed, “We need to find a path to legalized status for those who have come here and have languished in the shadows.” But while Bush was staking out a centrist position on immigration, most of the other potential Republican candidates were in Des Moines attending the Iowa Freedom Summit where they were coming down on the opposite side of that issue as well as the Common Core education curriculum that Bush also supports. The juxtaposition of these two events again raises the question whether anyone, even someone as talented as Bush, can win by flouting the sentiments of most of his party’s activists.

Bush wasn’t the only would-be candidate missing in Des Moines. Mitt Romney, who continues to act as if he is ready for a third try for the presidency, was also absent and the presence of the two moderate heavyweights was reportedly noted with scorn by some of those in attendance. But while we’re still a year away from voting in the first-in-the-nation caucus, the decision of Bush to double down on his immigration stand illustrates just how different his approach to the 2016 race is from the rest of the field.

Bush isn’t wrong when he notes that those who are opposed to a path to legalization need to come up with a better answer than deportation (or the tragicomic “self-deportation” idea that helped sink Romney in 2012) for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. This is a long-term problem that requires a solution that goes deeper than slogans. That is the same attitude that motivated his older brother to make a futile attempt to pass immigration reform in 2005 and led a number of other conservatives (including Senator Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 rival) to support a comprehensive bipartisan immigration bill that allowed for a path to citizenship in 2013. As Rubio learned to his sorrow, most Republicans opposed that position at that time. But while Rubio has backed off, Bush is digging in despite the fact that, if anything, conservative opposition to what most still call “amnesty” has only increased.

While any support for legalization was always going to be an uphill slog among Republicans, two events in the intervening years have made it even more difficult.

The first was the surge in illegal immigration this past summer that threatened at one point to overwhelm the country’s resources as unaccompanied minors flooded over into Texas from Mexico. Though some argued that worsening conditions in Central America was the primary motivation for what happened, it was also clear that pro-amnesty rhetoric from President Obama and other prominent figures on both sides of the aisle had raised unreasonable expectations among potential illegals. This convinced Rubio and many other pro-reform politicians and pundits (such as myself) that the comprehensive approach of the Senate bill was wrong. The border had to be secured first before any consideration should be given to amnesty.

But far more important, at least as far as the discussion about this issue among Republicans was concerned, was President Obama’s decision to grant de facto amnesty to up to five million illegals via executive orders last month. This decision offended many that might otherwise agree with both the president and Bush that a solution must be found for the illegals. It raised the specter of one-man rule and ignored the Constitution with respect to the right of Congress to pass the laws of the land. One may try, as Bush will, to treat this as a separate issue from that of immigration reform. But, thanks to Obama, the two are now inseparable. One can’t talk about a path to legalization anymore without, in the same breath, acknowledging that Obama’s extra-legal moves have fundamentally altered the debate. That makes it even more difficult to advocate more amnesty, as Bush is doing, without it making it appear as if he is on the same side as Obama. That may be unfair but that is the way the issue will be framed and the former Florida governor is too experienced a political hand to expect anything different.

Much of the liberal mainstream media may believe opposition to amnesty will make it impossible for Republicans to ever win another national election. But while the Hispanic vote is a major factor, the rest of the country is unhappy with amnesty and illegal immigration in a way that can swing many working and middle-class voters of all races to the GOP. Bush is assuming he’s on the right side of history with his stance but Obama may have permanently altered the political landscape on this question in a way that makes his position less saleable among all voters and poison for Republicans.

Bush has other problems besides immigration and Common Core. Romney’s decision to jump in eliminates the possibility that he can monopolize the establishment vote. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s seeming determination to run (he deserves credit for showing up in Iowa despite his unpopularity among conservatives) also complicates things for Bush. He has great assets too, including a famous name, a conservative record as governor, a thoughtful approach to the issues, and the ability to raise all the cash he needs. Bush may also believe the altered primary and caucus schedule and rules in 2016 will benefit him. But his fate will hang more on the validity of his thesis that you can win by running against the base than anything else. If he can pull it off, it will make history and put him in a great position to win the general election against the Democrats. But count me as one of those who will believe it is possible after I see him do it and not before.

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Want to Reverse Obama’s Amnesty Orders? Elect a GOP President.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

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Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

That’s not the answer Tea Party activists and other members of the GOP base want to hear. The idea that the ability of Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders to restrain the president is limited, even now that the Senate is in their hands, seem inexplicable to many who believe that the only thing lacking in the Republican caucus is the will to take on Obama. But the more you map out the possible scenarios facing Republicans seeking a legislative fix to the president’s executive orders, not even a shutdown of DHS will halt the amnesty project. If that is true, and unfortunately it is, then at some point the GOP will have to concede at least temporary defeat and move on to other issues even if that will leave at least part of the base damning them as RINO weaklings.

The congressional math on the immigration tangle isn’t hard to figure out. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would probably like to pass the House bill, he may not have the votes to prevent a filibuster by Democrats seeking to defend the president’s prerogatives even if he could count on all 54 Republicans to vote with him, which he can’t. Even if he could get cloture and pass the bill, neither McConnell nor Boehner can muster the supermajorities needed to override such a veto. At that point, the only alternatives involve actions that will lead the GOP into a government shutdown scenario that will only hurt them and help Obama. Even worse, since the agencies that will administer the president’s amnesty plans run on fees collected from the illegals and other immigrants, even that wouldn’t stop the orders from being carried out.

This is frustrating for Republicans and not just because it will leave some conservatives wondering what the point was of electing GOP majorities if they can’t get their way on an issue that hinges on protecting the regular constitutional order by which the legislature passes laws that the executive branch must then enforce.

The strength of the Republican position is that it is defensible regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the president’s policy goals. For a president to simply order a government agency to stop enforcing legally binding laws sets a dangerous precedent. So, too, does the spectacle of a president unilaterally declaring his right to make as well as enforce laws simply because Congress didn’t do as he asked.

But even if you think the broken immigration system must be reformed and a solution found for the 12 million illegals already here and who are unlikely to be all deported, the prospect of Homeland Security simply stopping enforcement is dismaying. Though many of those threatened with deportation are sympathetic, such as the illegals profiled today by the New York Times, the idea that laws can be ignored with impunity, either by immigrants or the president, undermines the notion that we are a nation of laws not men.

This is a battle worth fighting. But it must be acknowledged that picking fights, even righteous ones, that you can’t win isn’t smart.

To those who ask what was the point of electing a Republican Senate if Obama is to get his way, the only answer is that if you are going to eventually reverse the president’s orders, it will have to include electing a president as well as GOP congressional majorities. Only a Republican president, elected in part by the outrage many Americans will feel about their laws being trashed, can roll back the damage Obama is doing to the fabric of our democracy.

The groundwork for that reversal of fortune will also have to involve a Republican Congress behaving sensibly and showing that the party can govern constructively while seeking wherever possible to push back against Obama’s imperial instincts. That will not satisfy those who declare that the republic won’t survive another two years of the Obama presidency. But policy based on apocalyptic predictions is neither a sober party platform nor a strategy for victory. Republicans have made their statement about immigration. Once their gambit fails, like it or not, they will have to move on and prepare the groundwork for the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

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Obama’s Executive Memoranda Highlights Constitutional Crisis

When conservatives protested President Obama’s attempt to go around the Constitution and rule by executive orders rather than with the consent of Congress, his defenders had a ready answer. While they insisted that Obama’s fiat granting amnesty to five million illegal immigrants did not exceed his authority, they also countered by saying that the president had actually issued far fewer such executive orders than that of President Bush. But, as USA Today noted last week, focusing only on executive orders while ignoring the far more numerous executive memoranda issued by this administration that have the same effect as law, the press and the public have vastly underestimated the extent of how far he has stretched the boundaries of executive power. If anything, this president’s effort to create a one-man government may have gone farther than we thought.

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When conservatives protested President Obama’s attempt to go around the Constitution and rule by executive orders rather than with the consent of Congress, his defenders had a ready answer. While they insisted that Obama’s fiat granting amnesty to five million illegal immigrants did not exceed his authority, they also countered by saying that the president had actually issued far fewer such executive orders than that of President Bush. But, as USA Today noted last week, focusing only on executive orders while ignoring the far more numerous executive memoranda issued by this administration that have the same effect as law, the press and the public have vastly underestimated the extent of how far he has stretched the boundaries of executive power. If anything, this president’s effort to create a one-man government may have gone farther than we thought.

As of last week, Obama had issued 198 executive memoranda alongside 195 executive orders. That’s 33 percent more than Bush issued in his full eight years in office and 45 percent more than Bill Clinton. That blows a huge hole in the defense of Obama’s use of executive orders. Seen in this light, rather, as he and his media cheering section have contended, Obama has far exceeded the resort to unilateral measures of not only his immediate predecessor, but every one before that as well.

As USA Today explains, like the orders, memorandums have the force of law and don’t require the consent of Congress. Obama’s memoranda have run the gamut from the creation of new kinds of retirement savings plans, having the Labor Department require federal contractors to supply specific information to the government, forcing borrowers to cap student loan payments, three post-Sandy Hook shooting gun control measures as well as two memos that complimented his immigration amnesty orders.

That last point is crucial because the implementation of amnesty is largely being carried out by executive memorandums rather than orders. They also have the advantage of not being numbered in the Federal Register, as are executive orders. That makes it harder for Congress, the press and the public to keep track of them.

But lest you think it is a mistake to treat the memorandums as being as potent as the far more publicized orders, don’t rely on the authority of USA Today or Commentary. Ask one of President Obama’s appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1999, Justice Elena Kagan, who served as Associate White House Counsel in the Clinton White House, wrote in the Harvard Law Review that legal scholars made a mistake in focusing too much on executive orders while ignoring the memoranda.

Kagan said Clinton considered memoranda “a central part of his governing strategy,” using them to spur agencies to write regulations restricting tobacco advertising to children, allowing unemployment insurance for paid family leave and requiring agencies to collect racial profiling data.

“The memoranda became, ever increasingly over the course of eight years, Clinton’s primary means, self-consciously undertaken, both of setting an administrative agenda that reflected and advanced his policy and political preferences and of ensuring the execution of this program,” Kagan wrote.

When you consider how many more memoranda Obama has issued than Clinton, it makes Justice Kagan’s insight into how they can be used as a governing strategy even more important.

In practice, the memos are clearly executive orders by another name with no real difference. Even before Barack Obama had become president, they constituted a legal loophole that helped make an already increasingly imperial presidency even more powerful. But under Obama that problem has grown far worse.

The immigration overreach rightly scandalized many Americans not only because of the scope of the orders that were issued but because they represented an end run around the checks and balances that were put into the Constitution by the founders specially to avoid one man rule. One didn’t need to disagree with the president’s actions to understand that the process he was using represented a dangerous departure from the rule of law. But what few seem to understand is that the orders are only the tip of the imperial iceberg when it comes to President Obama’s effort to govern without having to wait for Congress to adopt the laws he wants them to pass. The outrage over the immigration orders is no tempest in a teapot. The president’s increased use of executive memoranda as well as orders ought to highlight a problem that might properly be termed a constitutional crisis rather than a mere partisan spat.

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Obama’s Still In Charge But Also Still Failing

President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

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President Obama used the opening statement for his end of year press conference to boast of his achievements even if many of the questions revolved around his lackluster response to the North Korean cyber terror attack on Sony. But the main theme of most of the coverage of the president today centered on the theme that he has responded to his party’s landslide defeat in the midterm elections by seeking to revive his presidency with unilateral actions. These initiatives, such as his opening to Cuba and executive orders on immigration show he’s still in charge and capable of using his power and establishing his legacy despite the opposition of Congress and even the majority of Americans. But while the mainstream media is applauding the signs of life out of White House that appeared dead in the water last month, this recent surge of activity should not be mistaken for policy success. Though any president has the ability to act whenever he wants, the same failures that have dogged him during his first six years in office haven’t disappeared.

There’s no doubt that those who were completely writing off the president’s ability to influence events after the beating Democrats took were exaggerating. Though his policies, which he said were on the ballot, were repudiated, Congress in the hands of Republicans and his personal favorability ratings continuing to head south, the president remains the most powerful man in the world. With the vast power of the federal government at his disposal and no limits on his ability to act, save those specifically charted out by the Constitution and Congress, any president can dominate any news cycle or make a wide variety of decisions that can not easily be reversed by either the legislature or the judiciary.

Moreover, unlike some of his predecessors, Obama’s personality is such that he views checks on his actions, whether in the form of Congressional action or the verdict of the ballot box, as challenges to be met rather than judgments that must be respected. Just as this is a top-down administration in which the Cabinet acts as a body of sycophants and middlemen rather than advisors, this is not a president who listens to advice or criticism that doesn’t conform to his original ideas. It should therefore come as no surprise that now that he is faced with a Congress controlled by his opponents, Obama should come to the conclusion that Constitutional boundaries should be ignored in his zeal to do, as he likes.

But his ability to act on his own should not be mistaken for actual policy successes.

On immigration, the president has finally done what some of his supporters wanted in terms of granting amnesty to more than 5 million illegal aliens and there is very little that is effective that his critics can do about it.

On Cuba, the new Congress can block funding for a new embassy in Havana, refuse to lift the embargo or confirm a new ambassador. But much of the new opening to the despotic regime will go one no matter what Congress says.

Looking ahead to other possible presidential actions, if he makes enough concessions and the Iranians are feeling generous, Obama may get a nuclear deal with the Islamist state. That, too, will be interpreted as a sign of life in what would otherwise be considered a lame duck presidency.

But none of this will change the fact that Obama’s ideological fixation with outreach to tyrants has not made the world better or increased America’s security or influence. To the contrary, with ISIS on the rise in the Middle East, Iran successfully challenging for regional hegemony via its successes in Syria, its alliance with Hamas and its intimidation of moderate Arab nations, and likely to gain U.S. acquiescence to it becoming a nuclear threshold state, Obama is leaving the world a more dangerous place than when he entered the White House. Nor will his Cuban gambit make the island a more democratic or free place.

On domestic policy, his admirers cite his immigration executive orders as a sign that he can govern despite the opposition of Congress. But by acting in this extralegal fashion, Obama has actually doomed for the foreseeable future any chance of working out a compromise with Republicans to pass some kind of immigration reform. Flexing his muscles in this fashion and showing his contempt for the law has convinced even many moderate Republicans that he can’t be trusted to enforce any legislation that he doesn’t like or benefit from. Nor will the problems that he postponed in the implementation of ObamaCare but which will begin to be felt in 2015 do much to bolster confidence in his judgment or the wisdom of his efforts.

So while the last month has been full of presidential sound and fury, these actions only mask a deeper malaise that won’t be fixed by Obama’s characteristic hubris about his actions. The failures of his first six years still hang over this presidency and are why he remains deeply unpopular. He will retain the ability to impact the country until the moment his successor takes the oath of office. But no one should mistake this flurry of activity for presidential success. As the months wind down in what he termed today the fourth quarter of his time in the White House, Obama will be relevant but his failures will continue to haunt the nation and cloud his legacy.

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Dem Civil War and Demographic Destiny

Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Coming as it did on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t think enough attention was paid to Senator Charles Schumer’s National Press Club speech last week that lamented the Democratic Party’s decision to expend all of its capital on passing ObamaCare in the wake of their 2008 victory. Schumer said that rather than addressing a problem that affected a relatively small percentage of the public, the Democrats should have used the two years when they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress focusing on measures that would have increased employment and helped the middle class. If you think that sounds like sour grapes in the wake of a midterm elections drubbing, you’re right. But Schumer is hinting at something more serious than second thoughts about an unpopular piece of legislation. He and other liberals are only just beginning to realize that rather than riding demographics to certain triumph in the future, Democratic alienation of white working class and middle class voters may snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Schumer’s political analysis is must reading for both conservatives and liberals. Though he insists that tackling health care was a good idea in principle, he points out that although the plight of uninsured and rising health-care costs are important problems, 85 percent of Americans were getting their insurance from either their employers or the government (via Medicare or Medicaid). Since most of the uninsured are either not registered or don’t vote even if they are:

To aim a huge change in mandate at such a small percentage of the electorate made no political sense. So when Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, the Democrats are not paying enough attention to “me.”

But Schumer shouldn’t have stopped with his second-guessing of the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The same argument can be made about President Obama’s executive orders mandating amnesty for five million illegal immigrants.

Though this measure is assumed, with reason, to be popular among Hispanic voters, the notion that it will ensure their monolithic support for Democrats in the future is a theory, not a certainty. But even if we are prepared to make that assumption, by investing so heavily in a measure that is focused on appealing only to minorities and which, at the same time, has the potential to alienate large numbers of working class and middle class voters who worry about the nation’s inability to control its borders and intensely dislike the president’s end run around the Constitution to accomplish this goal, they increased their demographic weakness in other areas.

Republicans have spent the years since their 2012 loss in the presidential election pondering their problems with Hispanics, African-Americans, unmarried women, and young voters. The ensuing debate has created an ongoing argument between those who urge greater outreach to these constituencies and those who believe the GOP has to concentrate on mobilizing its base. One needn’t choose either option to the exclusion of the other, but this discussion has become a keynote of the simmering conflict between the party establishment and its Tea Party and conservative base.

But while the mainstream press has obsessed about this Republican civil war, it ignores the looming battle among Democrats. That civil war pits people like Schumer, who may be hardcore liberals but understand that ideological policies carry a hefty price tag, against left-wingers like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who appears to speak for the Democratic base in the same way that Ted Cruz represents Tea Partiers. Democrats paid the price that Schumer spoke of in the form of two midterm election landslides even if Barack Obama’s historic status and personal popularity enabled them to hold onto the White House in 2012.

The two presidential wins interspersed with two midterm losses has led many pundits and politicians on both sides of the aisle to conclude that the two parties are fated to continue this pattern because of the larger turnout of Democratic constituencies in presidential years. That has led many to embrace the notion that demography is destiny, which holds that the increasingly larger share of votes cast by non-whites will not only ensure that the pattern continues but that Republicans will never again win the presidency until they become more attractive to minorities. That’s not an idea that the GOP should ignore, but it may be that the Democrats’ decision to embrace policies that alienate a far larger group—white middle class and working class male voters—will be as much of handicap in 2016 as it was in 2014.

All indications are that, like that ultimate weathervane Hillary Clinton, many Democrats prefer to follow Warren’s example and steer to the left. That may endear them to minorities as well as their liberal base. But in doing so they may be the ones dooming themselves to future disasters, not Republicans who understand that so long as they avoid looking foolish or extreme they are well positioned to reap the benefits of opposition to both ObamaCare and amnesty for illegals. Having spent the last six years branding their opponents as extremists, it seems Democrats have forgotten that the same problem exists on the left as it does on the right.

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Pass an Immigration Bill? What’s the Point?

Republicans are still fulminating about last week’s presidential power grab, and with good reason. President Obama’s executive orders granting legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants were contrary to proper constitutional order as well as the will of an American people that had just issued a rebuke to his policies and his party in the midterm elections. But the onus right now seems to be on the GOP to come up with a coherent response to the president on immigration, whether a strategy to push back on his orders or on the issue itself. In particular, the president has challenged Republicans to “pass a bill” if they don’t like what he’s done. But while that sounds logical, the president’s actions are nothing more than a partisan trap. By effectively neutering the rule of law via mass “selective prosecution,” what Obama has done is to vindicate the positions of the most extreme opponents of immigration reform.

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Republicans are still fulminating about last week’s presidential power grab, and with good reason. President Obama’s executive orders granting legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants were contrary to proper constitutional order as well as the will of an American people that had just issued a rebuke to his policies and his party in the midterm elections. But the onus right now seems to be on the GOP to come up with a coherent response to the president on immigration, whether a strategy to push back on his orders or on the issue itself. In particular, the president has challenged Republicans to “pass a bill” if they don’t like what he’s done. But while that sounds logical, the president’s actions are nothing more than a partisan trap. By effectively neutering the rule of law via mass “selective prosecution,” what Obama has done is to vindicate the positions of the most extreme opponents of immigration reform.

The genius of Obama’s amnesty for illegals via executive orders is not that he has somehow championed the underdog or ensured the Hispanic vote for the Democrats for generations to come, as many Democrats are saying. The orders, which can be reversed if the GOP wins back the White House in 2016, won’t permanently change anything for the illegals. And Hispanics weren’t flipping to the Republicans even if the House had passed the Senate immigration reform bill last year. What the orders have done though is dashed the House and Senate GOP leadership’s hopes for setting a governing agenda by making bipartisan cooperation a toxic phrase in the majority caucuses next year. While there may be deals to be made on trade, taxes, or the use of force in the Middle East, Obama has ensured that much of the Republican Party’s energies will be wasted on futile attempts to stop his unilateral immigration policies. Even more to the point, immigration reform is dead on arrival for the next two years.

It should be remembered that Republicans were divided on immigration in the Congress that is just reaching the end of its term. A significant faction in the Senate backed the comprehensive bipartisan reform bill passed by the upper body. There were significant numbers in the House GOP caucus that favored tackling border enforcement even if the majority wanted no part of the Senate bill.

Opponents of even going that far had two standard replies to those favoring such measures. The first argued that any deal promising a free pass to illegals already here would generate another surge of illegals coming in. The second said that it was impossible to trust President Obama to actually carry out border enforcement measures if his real agenda here rests with granting legal status to illegals.

In response, reform advocates made points about the current problem being de facto amnesty and pointed to the advantages of strengthening the border and then dealing with the issue of those already here.

Those opposing immigration reform are wrong in terms of the big picture since this is an issue that requires attention and legislation to deal with a problem that won’t go away by itself. But they were right about both the impact of amnesty and the president’s reliability on enforcement. Last summer’s surge of illegals at the Texas border put to rest the notion that there is no connection between talk of granting amnesty and the rate of illegal entries. That is true even if Obama’s measures wouldn’t actually apply to those coming over the border. And now that Obama has single-handedly eviscerated the notion that the rule of law applies to immigration matters, he has handed reform advocates an irrefutable argument that any legislation on the matter is impossible since the president has no credibility on enforcement matters.

Even more to the point, Obama has placed Republican leaders in the position where they must respond to his end run around the Constitution even though there is little likelihood that anything, whether a lawsuit or even selective funding cutoffs that will impact the government’s ability to carry out the amnesty plan (though this is the most promising idea), will stop him from doing whatever he likes until January 2017. That will allow the White House and its media cheering section to label the new Congress as a pack of obstructionists even if the president is the one who has needlessly provoked the argument by going back on his past promises to refrain from acting like an emperor rather than a president.

Thus, the president’s challenges to “pass a bill” aren’t merely unpersuasive. Rather than an effort to prompt needed legislation, they are taunts that are actually intended to foment more obstruction and partisan warfare.

Those who know the country needs a legislative remedy to a broken immigration system knew that the odds were against success even before the president’s moves. But by acting in this manner he has made it certain that no such efforts can possibly succeed in the next Congress and also silenced those who tried to answer the arguments of those opposed to reform. The appropriate response to “Pass a bill” is that the president should try enforcing the law first. Obama has not only damaged the cause of immigration reform, he has done something that seemed impossible a couple of years ago: made anti-immigration advocates look smart.

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Standing and Prosecutorial Discretion

There has been much talk of late, especially since President Obama’s speech last night, about how the new Republican congress can respond to his continual, indeed increasing, end runs around Congress’s power to make the laws. In almost so many words last night, he said to Congress, you didn’t reform immigration law so I will.

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There has been much talk of late, especially since President Obama’s speech last night, about how the new Republican congress can respond to his continual, indeed increasing, end runs around Congress’s power to make the laws. In almost so many words last night, he said to Congress, you didn’t reform immigration law so I will.

He used the common law principle of prosecutorial discretion—where the executive can choose what individual crimes to pursue and which to ignore—to do so. He was confident that the common law principle of standing—where an individual, corporation, or government body must have a personal or direct injury that he or it wants redressed in order to sue—would prevent the courts from interfering.

It’s clever lawyering if lousy politics.

The courts have long held that individual members of Congress cannot sue the president for ignoring the law.  It may get them a headline in tomorrow morning’s newspaper, which is what they are usually after anyway, but it won’t get them far in court.  Equally, prosecutorial discretion has always been used to allow prosecutors to choose strong cases to pursue, while letting weak ones go, or to prevent an injustice from occurring by pursuing the letter of the law.

But, as noted, both standing and prosecutorial discretion are largely common law principles, arising from centuries of court decisions on how justice should be done, guarded by the doctrine of stare decisis, which holds that settled principles of law should not be disturbed by the courts when deciding similar cases.

But statute trumps common law. It was common law that the age of majority was 21. But that didn’t prevent the states from making 18 the age at which, for instance, individuals could drink or marry without a parent’s permission or vote.  A constitutional amendment set the voting age at 18 nationwide.

So, while I am not a lawyer, I see no reason why the new Republican Congress could not pass a law granting itself standing to sue when it decides by majority vote that the President has trespassed on its power to make the law. Equally, it has the power to limit prosecutorial discretion to its traditional uses.

After all, President Obama was implicitly arguing in his speech last night that if Congress were to pass a law making, say, the transportation of widgets across a state line a felony, he would be free to order the Justice Department not to prosecute any cases under the Widget Law, effectively repealing it.

Defining standing and prosecutorial discretion by statute would prevent this usurpation of power.  Would President Obama veto such bills? Perhaps, but even with the mainstream media in look-a-squirrel overdrive, I think public pressure would force him to accept them.  If it didn’t, then a future president who thinks that James Madison is not just a dead white guy would.

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