Obama's immigration plan marks the end of the end of gridlock

Looks like the era of cooperation lasted one week

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The lame duck has crashed into the rogue elephant. 

It isn’t going to be pretty. Clean up on Aisle 1600.

The New York Times scooped Thursday afternoon that President Barack Obama will go ahead and do exactly what Republicans say they don’t want him to do – use his executive authority to change immigration enforcement in ways that will protect many undocumented immigrants from deportation.  The announcement could come next week, the Times reports.

Now, this could be another Syrian red line situation. The president has threatened to take “unilateral” action on immigration before. Several times, in fact.

And each time Obama has, Republican leaders have threatened him right back. That cycle of violence continued Thursday. Earlier in the day, Politico reports, Speaker John Boehner told a closed-door meeting of his caucus, “I told the president last week directly: ‘If you proceed with executive amnesty, not only can you forget about getting immigration reform enacted during your presidency, you can also expect it to jeopardize other issues as well,’”

Thursday’s punch-up came a day after the U.S.-China deal on carbon emissions was announced.

This was a triumph in the view of environmentalists and Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fresh off his victory lap, didn’t quite see it that way. “It requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years, while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states across the country,” he said about the deal.

Boom, goes the government.

“To everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you,” Obama said the day after the midterm elections. “To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.”

It seems we now know exactly what the president heard. 

Some thought he might have heard some sort of message about conciliation, compromise and de-escalation of partisan combat.  Something about the end of gridlock.

Nope. The message he heard, it now seems clear, was stick to your guns, fire at will, and protect your base.

Maybe that is the right political decision. Maybe it will improve his dreadful approval ratings. Maybe it will somehow better position the Democratic Party for 2016.

And maybe it is the right thing to do by his own moral light – and his party’s. Fighting climate change and anti-immigrant sentiment are at the core of what Democrats today stand for.

Maybe this is a bold, gutsy move.

And maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the lame duck and the elephant were destined to crash into each other as they have, no matter what the first dance steps were.

But maybe not.  Maybe there was an opportunity to change the timbre of the partisan tone just a smidge.  Maybe the president exerted a leadership role in that process. Maybe he could have schmoozed a bit. Or made a token effort.  But no.

Purely on the level of political chess, this immigration gambit means the president has ceded the high ground on post-election bipartisanship.

There is little chance that the Republicans will take that high ground.  But the president chose to make the move.

No one, least of all me, knows whether there was ever a real opportunity for the White House and the Republican Congress to get something major done together as a down payment cleaning up the political toxic dump of Pennsylvania Avenue.

It could even still happen.

But I don’t think the president heard what the voters were really saying.

The End of Gridlock Era is over. It lasted a week.

[Also by Dick Meyer: Economic inequality is worse than you thought]

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.

Print this article Back to Top