In a fit of postelection modesty, President Barack Obama is offering not to take executive action to amnesty millions of illegal immigrants — provided Republicans do his bidding on immigration.
It is extortion as conciliation. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie often invites comparisons to “The Sopranos,” but it is President Obama who is making a tactic out of the HBO mob drama his major postelection initiative. His bipartisan outreach now ends with a pointed “Or else …”
This offer Republicans can’t refuse includes the stipulation that the president will revoke his executive action in the event they pass legislation to his liking. How generous of him.
Obama’s tack on immigration speaks to a president who is out of sorts and out of step, and recognizes his own political impotence. Unable to build a political case for one of his chief second-term priorities, he has to fall back on executive usurpation.
Prior to the election, the president delayed his threatened amnesty — perhaps legalizing millions of immigrants — because it might harm Democrats. It still became an election issue, with Republicans hammering away at it and winning resoundingly.
This electoral rebuke might give a less highhanded president pause. Not President Obama.
The president says that he’d still “prefer” that Congress itself change the immigration laws. For him, this is a positively Madisonian expression of respect for the American constitutional scheme.
President Obama is distressed that the Senate passed an immigration bill by a wide, bipartisan margin and the House refused to take it up. Fine. That is his right. He has legitimate means to respond.
For one, he could have barnstormed the country for amnesty during the election campaign, seeking to defeat officeholders and candidates who don’t share his view on immigration. This is how legislative majorities are built.
With the election past, he can still build the political case for an amnesty and pressure House Republicans to act. If he could turn up the political heat enough, he might make House Speaker John Boehner buckle.
When it comes down to it, fiat is the only means for President Obama to reliably get his way. His promised executive action is a substitute for democratic politics, not an exercise in it.
No matter how frustrated the president is, there is no Chagrined and Impatient Clause in the Constitution that allows him to effectively make his own laws when he is irked at Congress. If so, Congress would have been neutered at the beginning. American presidents have been irked at Congress for as long as there have been presidents and a Congress.
What President Obama is threatening is not only politically graceless — a rude gesture at the public, as Ron Fournier of the National Journal puts it — it is a profound distortion of the mechanisms of American government.
(Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)
© 2014 by King Features Synd., Inc.