The politics of Obama's immigration announcement

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

Today, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would offer a temporary amnesty to younger illegal immigrants under certain conditions, specified here. President Obama's decision to announce this news now was clearly motivated by election year politics, but it's questionable how much difference it will make.

On the one hand, Obama may be announcing this policy to temper criticism from the left. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reported last week that, "The White House is so convinced of the centrality of Hispanics to the current election and its aftermath that (David) Plouffe told me he has been preparing for months for an onslaught of advertisements from a pro-Romney group attacking Obama from the left on immigration, arguing that Obama’s deportation and border-security policies have been too Draconian." The question is whether Hispanics who consider this issue important may see through today's news as an election year ploy, especially given that it was only put in place for two years.

Beyond protecting his left flank, Obama may be trying to draw Romney into the immigration trap. Though Romney talked tough on immigration during the primaries, it remains an open question how he'll campaign on the issue during the general election. By announcing this news now, Obama may be hoping to force Romney's hand sooner. If Romney comes out swinging against the policy to satisfy conservatives, the Obama campaign will pounce, and attack him as being anti-Hispanic. If Romney isn't critical enough of the decision, it could renew suspicions about Romney among conservatives who are concerned about the illegal immigration issue. In a broader sense, any time immigration is in the news, it will put the pressure on Romney to outline his policy preferences in more detail.

All of that said, Romney can respond by focusing his attacks on procedure -- that the policy was enacted by executive fiat, without Congress, in a clearly cynical election year political move at a time when Obama is desperate to change the subject from the weak economy. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., put it, "by once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long term one.” In other words, the way that Obama went about doing this makes it a lot easier for Romney to thread the needle.

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Philip Klein

Commentary Editor
The Washington Examiner