These last few weeks have been consequential ones for the Obama Presidency and the 2012 campaigns. Both the SCOTUS SB1070 and yesterday's Affordable Care Act decisions went the President's way. The President broke the logjam on immigration reform with his courageous decision to grant temporary legal status to DREAM eligible youth. Polls continue to show him winning the election, and there was some evidence this week that he may be gaining ground in the battlegrounds, potentially making Romney's challenge even harder.
But I think the lasting political impact of these last few weeks will be on the perception of Obama as a leader and the overall efficacy of his first term. We've seen a President these last few weeks, one taking decisive action for the nation, overcoming significant opposition, sticking to his guns and battling for his core beliefs. Mitt Romney on the other hand has been largely invisible, and when he has popped up on the national stage has sounded strangely incoherent and baffled by the changing landscape of the race. Romney's performances of late have been anything but re-assuring about his own style of leadership.
The validation of the ACA opens the possibility for the President to make a much stronger case for the positive impact of this time in office. He has dramatically improved the American health care system; made the border safer and the immigration system better; is winding down, peacefully, our military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has overseen and nurtured a critical moment of modernization and democratization in North Africa and the Middle East; on his watch America has adopted a far-sighted national energy strategy that is reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy while making prudent investments in a better and cleaner energy future; he has helped lead the world through a tumultuous global financial period, avoiding a world financial collapse; his aggressive actions have all but destroyed Al Qaeda, and Bin Laden is no longer a threat to the world; took a far-sighted and momentous civil rights step by embracing marriage equality; and he has mobilized the global community to confront Iran in unprecedented ways, bringing them to the negotiating table and further isolating and weakening them on the global stage.
On the economy, it is clear now that the stimulus and financial rescue package helped stop the most dangerous economic period America had experienced since the early 1930s, kept the banking system solvent and ushered in a period of slow but steady growth. The housing market is showing signs of true recovery in many parts of the country. Corporate profits remain at historically high levels, and the stock market is at high levels. In the next few days the President will likely sign a bi-partisan transportation bill which will put people to work right away, and a student loan bill which will ensure low interest rates for our kids. He has proposed a basket of other initiatives which could grow the economy right now, all opposed by the Congressional GOP.
At this point he will be able to say, truthfully, that under his leadership the economy is stronger and the world safer than when we took office.
If indeed there is a rise in what is called in polling "strong leader/weak leader" I think it is a big problem for the Romney camp. Consider their strategic landscape: losing in the national polls, the states and the electoral college; not winning the econ argument with Obama (things are even or slightly in Obama's favor); far behind in foreign policy and national security dimensions (possibly the first GOPer to be in this position in the modern era); and watching the strong leader/weak leader dimension start to slip away. Where exactly does the Romney camp go now? Health care? Thought folks wanted to talk about the economy. Foreign policy? Romney's foreign policy experience seems limited to shipping jobs and his money overseas. The economy? I just don't think Romney is in a position to decisively beat Obama there unless there is a full economic collapse, and a decisive victory is required if Romney is to gain the ground he needs to gain in the coming months. The tax cuts for the wealthy at all costs argument just isn't going to trump the current Obama economic framework (for more on this point see my recent essay, "Why I Am Not Nervous").
I have believed for some time that the Romney/Rove/GOP machine was going to come to realize that their only path to victory was by exploiting the strong leader/weak leader dimension as all other paths were just not there for them. And that path just got a whole lot tougher for them. And thus this was indeed a very consequential few weeks in both the Obama Presidency and the 2012 elections.
We agree with much of the sentiment expressed today: gratitude that most of SB1070 was struck down, concern that the “papers please” provision wasn’t. We offer a few additional thoughts for those thinking about the impact of the decision:
This phrase “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States." (p15, first paragraph) is one which deserves a great deal of examination and discussion in the coming days. Is the Supreme Court disagreeing with those who refer to “removable aliens” as “illegal immigrants?” I am no lawyer but something important may be have written here. Be interested in hearing from folks who know more than I on this one.
In general I think this decision may end up being Gettysburg for the Brewer/Self-Deportation/Attrition movement in the United States. Those of who believe in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform framework may not have yet won the debate in the country. However, the “Attrition approach” – making the lives of undocumented immigrants so miserable that they “self-deport” – suffered a terrible political and legal blow today. The Court maintained the power of the Federal government to make immigration laws. It questioned whether there was a firm legal basis to view undocumented immigrants as inherently dangerous to social order. It raised questions about whether even the remaining provision of SB1070 would survive legal challenge.
Given all this, why would any future state or local government pursue this strategy? If Governor Brewer tries to enact the remaining provision will be interesting to see if any cities or counties in Arizona resist implementation – citing propriety, uncertainty, cost, potential future litigation and public opposition. My own sense is that this ends any public momentum towards this approach at the state and local level – it is just too risky now. While this may not mean that those of in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform camp are closer to winning the argument today, I think the Brewer/Attrition camp is that much closer to losing.
Some have asked what this means for the Presidential race. It seems today that the SB1070 suit provided the two candidates a chance to show whose side they were on. The President choose to be on the side of those fighting for a better immigration system and for the immigrant communities under siege by the “attrition” strategy enacted in Arizona and other states. Governor Romney threw his lot in with Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce and others who believe that making the lives of undocumented immigrants miserable - and asking that they “self-deport” – is the best way to fix our broken immigration system. After the historic decision today, it increasingly looks like the President of the United States is on the right side of history. The former Governor of Massachusetts - not so much.
Finally, Governor Romney’s refusal to comment on the SCOTUS decision, while traveling to Arizona, may have been the last moment that Mitt Romney had in this campaign cycle to fundamental alter the dynamic with Latino voters – a dynamic which is making it hard much much harder to win the Presidency. In general I have been startled by the incoherence of team Romney on the issue of immigration in the last few weeks. It raises broader questions about the overall competency of his campaign.
With President Obama Our Immigration System Is Better, Our Border Safer/Romney Offers Thin Gruel, Embrace of SB1070/Brewer/Self Deportation/Attrition Approach
In his 2008 campaign President Obama promised to fix our broken immigration system through a strategy we’ve come to know as comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). CIR’s approach was to improve the system in three ways: 1) deter undocumented immigrants through better enforcement in the workplace and on the border; 2) design a better system for the future flow of immigrants so fewer undocumenteds would enter the country; 3) create a path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working among us.
Despite significant efforts by the Administration to pass CIR in 2010, the Republicans refused to go along and using the Senate filibuster blocked passage, as their party didin previous attempts to pass CIR in 2006 and 2007.
While CIR may not have passed, due to firm leadership from the Obama Administration over the past few years, more of the elements of CIR have been enacted then many realize, leaving our border safer and immigration system better than it was prior to 2009.
Let’s review what has been done:
Border Safety, Stopping the Flow of Undocumented Immigrants – The Administration has adopted the most aggressive set of border safely initiatives in US history. More money has been allocated, and personnel dispatched to the border and there has been much greater cooperation with Mexico in tackling these common challenges than any time in our nations history. The result today is that despite violence on the Mexican side of the border the communities on the US side have some of the lowest crime rates in the US; there has been virtually no spilloverviolence; progress has been made in stopping the southbound flow of guns and bulk cash; the net flow of undocumented immigrants from Mexico to the US has dropped from 500,000 a year just a few years ago to zero today.
While the border has become much safer, importantly these efforts have not stifled legal commerce with Mexico. Trade with Mexico, despite our economic recent downturn, has grown significantly in recent years. Mexico is now the US’s third largest trading partner, second largest export market and second largest source of foreign tourists of any country in the world. New ports of entry have been opened for the first time in a decade, and other ports have been modernized.
Better Workplace Enforcement – After extensive consultation with businesses the Obama Administration transitioned from large-scale workplace arrests of undocumented workers to a far more effective electronic I-9 audit system. Under the Obama Administration, cases against employers are up sharply: Immigration and Customs Enforcement quadrupled the number of employer audits after Obama took office, increasing the number of inspections and arrests against those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Businesses were fined $6.9 million in fiscal 2010, up from $675,000 in 2008. Additionally, the administration has been an aggressive proponent of a national employer verification system, an idea not supported by the current Republican House majority.
Making Deportation of Criminals A Priority – The Administration has made the deportation of criminal undocumented immigrants the primary deportation priority. In retrospect, it is hard to believe that this wasn’t the priority of previous Administrations. Due to the negotiation of unprecedented federal, state and local cooperation on immigration enforcement, this policy has worked. Net number of deportations of undocumented immigrations are up in the Obama Administration, as are the removal of criminals as a percentage of deportations.
Temporary Legal Status for DREAMers – The President’s decision to grant deportation relief to DREAM act eligible immigrants was a bold and dramatic act of Presidential leadership, one that should be welcomed by all those who want a better immigration system in America. The move was targeted, legal and the right thing to do. It will affect about 800,000 of the best and brightest immigrants caught up in a broken system for decisions not of their making.
Despite Republican opposition, the Obama Administration has made the border safer and the immigration better, while also ensuring a significant increase in trade with Mexico through our common border. Those who argue that the President’s decision last week to grant two year visas to DREAM eligible youth was election year politics don’t understand that this was just the latest step in a long series of steps to fix our broken immigration – efforts which have seen real and tangible improvement in America’s immigration system.
Romney’s Approach – Thin Policy Gruel, Embrace of Arizona/SB1070 “Self-Deportation.”
Seen through this light, the Romney immigration outline released yesterday looks like very thin policy gruel. The enforcement section of his outline lists things already enacted by the Obama Administration. The reforms in family re-unification, high-end visas and temporary workers are all initiatives already proposed by Democrats, and which do not represent a true redesign of the system necessary to meet the needs of our modern economy and deter future un-documented from entering the country.
And finally, of course, the outline never addresses the most pressing problem facing our immigration system, the presence of 11 million undocumented immigrants. From this omission one can only conclude that Governor Romney is sticking with the “self-deportation/attrition” strategy he embraced in the Republican Primaries, a strategy supported by national leaders like Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, Kris Kobach and many other Republicans.
One heard commentators on television this morning praising Governor Romney for softening his tone on immigration. Perhaps that is the case. But the only olive branch we saw is in areas of this debate frankly peripheral to fixing the system itself. On the two big issues – what to do with the undocumenteds and the 800,000 DREAM eligible kids who will have legal visas if Romney were to become President - we are left to assume that they would be subject to the same SB1070/Arizona/Arpaio approach the Governor embraced in the primaries and which will return to the national stage when the Supreme Court rules next week.
Today in a speech to NALEO, Mitt Romney did not in any way distance himself from the “self-deportation” strategy he outlined during the GOP primaries.
While he did address other parts of the immigration policy debate, on the core and most difficult issue – what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country – Mitt Romney did not alter or augment in any way what has become the position of Jan Brewer, Joe Arpaio, his own campaign and much of the rest of the Republican Party over the past few years – they want those undocumented immigrants to leave the United States as soon as possible, and intend to make their lives miserable enough so they do. He also made it clear that he will not renew the two year visas for DREAM eligible young people being currently introduced by the Obama Administration.
While we applaud Governor Romney for attending the NALEO conference, this speech offered little hope that he has the courage to do what it takes to fix America's broken immigration system. In that sense the speech was a major disappointment.
"We applaud the decision by the United States Trade Representative to Include Mexico as a negotiating partner in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks.
With a growing economy, bourgeoning middle class, and fast-growing bilateral trade relationship with the United States, Mexico is deserving of a place in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Its inclusion makes the TPP framework much stronger and more globally significant. We also hope that open the doors to the eventual inclusion of other interested countries, particularly Canada and Japan.
This is also just smart regional politics for the United States. Any “pivot” the U.S contemplates towards Asia should include the great Pacific power of Mexico, our close friend and neighbor, as a core partner in ushering in an era of even more trade and commerce, and political liberty in this essential part of the world."
Today, I released the following statement on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano's announcement that DHS is offering deferred action process for young people who are low enforcement priorities:
"The President’s decision today to grant relief to DREAM act eligible immigrants was a bold and dramatic act of Presidential leadership, one that should be welcomed by all those who want a better immigration system in America.
For too many years now elements of the Republican Party have publically railed against our current immigration system and then blocked repeated, reasonable, bi-partisan efforts to fix it. While Congress has dithered, our broken immigration system has continued to cause tens of millions of people living in the US to suffer, hide in the shadows, live lives very different from our own. It is simply unacceptable for leaders to stand aside and let the inequities of the current system to continue – and that is why the President was right to act.
The move today was targeted. It will affect about 800,000 young people caught up in a broken system not of their making. But I hope it will provide additional courage to those who know our system is wrong and have refused to work with the President to improve it. Let us hope this is the beginning of a new era for immigration reform, one that leads in the months ahead to a much more comprehensive overall, and finally provides America with an immigration system which meets the needs of our modern economy and does so in a way consistent with our values."
All of a sudden DC is full of chatter about Democrats worrying about the state of the Obama campaign. While I don't think this election is in the bag, I am not as worried as some of the talking heads around town. The President is winning this election right now, and has better tools to win the economic debate and end strong than the out of touch Romney campaign.
One credible look at the current state of the Electoral College is that if the election were held today President Obama would win, even without five critical states - CO, FL, IA, NC and OH, all states he could end up winning. So he has what I would say is a comfortable lead in the electoral college as of today. Of course the election isn't today, but if it were held today, he would win.
Second I just don't see how Romney can win the economic argument with this President. Republican economic policies did indeed help create the economic distress of recent years; Romney's record in Massachusetts leaves a lot to be desired; the candidate did in fact practice a form of capitalism good for him and not so good for every day people; and perhaps most importantly, he has embraced the nutty Ryan plan which is economically ruinous for the nation, and politically suicidal.
It appears at this point that the Republican strategy in 2012 is to repeat their 2010 campaign approach: argue that Dems have spent too much money, the economy is too weak, their strategy has failed. The problem with this from a messaging and campaign media standpoint is every middle class voter already knows all this while not agreeing that Obama has failed. I keep wondering what value all this money the Republicans have for paid advertising will add to the debate. The rough economic times are already baked into Obama's approval rating, and while disapointed with the President, the American people neither view him as a failure nor do they believe that he is to blame for what has happened. For the GOP to get value out of their campaigns this fall they will have to develop a better argument than what they have now - either a better, newer and more effective indictment of the President, or, god forbid, an argument for what they hope to do to make things better for every day people struggling for far too long.
As for the President, his campaign has spent the last month instilling a lot of new information about Romney's record and economic philosophy into the electorate This has been smart. My assumption is that the next phase of this effort to fill in what isn't known about Romney will move to educating the public about the loopy and disastrous Ryan plan, an act that i think will be devastating to the Romney campaign if handled right.
Additionally, this idea that Obama has no forward looking agenda is absurd. Has any politician in America these last two years given two State of the Unions full of forward looking arguments? Presented two incredibly detailed budgets which would make smart investments while bringing down the deficits over time? Offered a specific set of things for Congress to do right now that would help spur the economy as it is today? While I agree that the campaign may not have yet fully spelled out the go forward agenda in its public communications, the President has. One assumes the campaign will step up its efforts to educate the public about these matters in the coming weeks. And I do think this effort will add value to the debate as far too little is known about the progress which has been made across many different fronts during these last few years.
Using a baseball analogy, the 2012 campaign is in the fifth inning, and the President's team is winning. They may not have won the fifth inning itself, but their lineup and pitching staff are stronger, and they have what they need to close out and win.
I should say before closing that if the economy really turns bad, then of course this all gets tougher for the President. But it is too early to know whether we will head down that road.
So while I may not agree with everything the President's team has done of late, I am confident they have the tools they need to win the election this fall. I cannot say that for his opposition.
My prediction for the next wave of DC chatter - a focus on the Romney's team inability to make progress against the President on the economy, and the cry from GOP circles for a new and better economic argument.
Update - For my take on what the message of the 2012 campaign could be i send along my op-ed, Crafting An American Response to the Rise of the Rest.
Update 2 - Need to make it a little more clear that I am indeed more worried about the current trajectory of the economy more than I am the political strategy of the Obama campaign. While there is some evidence that the economy has slowed of late, I think the likely scenerio for the fall will be that the economy is neither as strong as Obama wants nor as weak as the Republican's are trying to make it. Which is why the current Obama effort to draw attention to the things we could do now to help the economy is appropriate, and smart.
When the world’s largest economies meet in Los Cabos, Mexico next week for the G20 Summit, strategies to promote growth and development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) should be an integral part of the conversation. A stable, prosperous, and globally integrated Middle East is in the interest of every one of the countries assembled at this meeting. When considering the realities of energy production, the decades of humanitarian turmoil, and the violence that has victimized the region and been exported to the West, the importance of effective transition becomes undeniable. The G20 must recognize that supporting economic growth and development will be the key to securing this long-term stability. While transitional MENA countries are not explicitly included in the Los Cabos agenda, the inclusion of “Economic stabilization and structural reforms as foundations for growth and employment” among the summit’s priorities offers an excellent framework for this discussion.
In May of this year, the G8 reaffirmed its support for the 2011 Deauville Partnership, a framework in which member states pledged financial and technical support to aid MENA transition countries in achieving short and long-term economic stabilization. While pledges and consultations are important first steps, there is much more to be done. In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab spring, economic stagnation and sky-high unemployment threaten to reverse the hard-fought political gains of the last year and a half.
The critical issue of economic support for these new governments now demands the G20’s attention. With 40 percent of the MENA population under the age of 25, a group suffering from the highest unemployment rate in the world, a real strategy for economic reform and growth is essential. Without empowering this generation to build a real future for themselves, they will become susceptible to forces seeking to lock the region into continued cycles of violence and misery. Significant sideline meetings should be held during next week’s G20 aimed at aggressively confronting these challenges. The Los Cabos Summit is an opportunity to move beyond rhetorical statements and work toward concrete support mechanisms. Not a minute should be wasted.
Last Friday’s disappointing jobs report clearly demonstrates that our leaders in Washington cannot afford to take the rest of the year off from managing a fragile economic recovery. The President has asked Congress to pass a simple package of smart economic initiatives he is calling a “To-Do List.” Congress should do this without delay. But it should also move ahead, with newfound intensity, with passing the long overdue Transportation Bill.
If approved, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) would authorize federal funding for highway, transit, and safety programs for the next fifteen months. The Department of Transportation estimates that the bill, which authorizes $109 billion for state level infrastructure investment, could save 1.8 million jobs and create 1 million more nationwide over the next two years. It would help put people back to work and begin a generation long process of modernizing our aging and increasingly outdated national infrastructure so critical to future prosperity and national competitiveness.
What seems like a no-brainer – fixing roads and creating jobs – has turned into ideological hostage taking. Although it was passed in the Senate in February, the bill has since been held up in conference committee by House Republicans, who insist on including unrelated measures intended to hinder the bill's passage. While the unemployment situation worsens, Republicans, instead of advancing solutions, are opting to obstruct any progress on this issue. Given the latest economic figures, Republican tactics here have to be seen as reckless and irresponsible. The President and Congressional leadership must undertake immediate efforts to reach an agreement and pass the bill this month.
The Senate made a smart decision today by fully funding the Middle East North African Incentive Fund in State/Foreign Operations Appropriated bill which passed earlier this morning. As we've written elsewhere, this Fund is a critical tool to let our nation do what it can to support the promising transitions unfolding in the region these past 18 months.
We are particularly pleased that Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has been such a strong advocate of the Fund. His leadership will be needed to bring other Republicans along to ensure that the Fund makes it through the full Senate, and then reinstated in conference with the House, which refused to include it in their recently passed appropriations bill.
As we watch the historic election in Egypt unfold today, it is clear that America must do more to support these transition nations struggling to find a better path for themselves and their people. Standing up the MENA-IF is the single most important thing our nation can do this year to support the MENA transition countries. It should be supported by legislators of both parties, and passed without delay.