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Shootout time on the Potomac

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Nov. 18, 2014

   Shootout time on the Potomac
This is the week Washington has been waiting for. Barack Obama is expected to send up his executive amnesty for 5 million illegal aliens and double-dog dare the Republicans to do anything about it.

The Republicans have a similar itch, eager to take on the president. The game is afoot, and the Republicans understand it's a shabby attempt to use the Hispanics to ensure the Democrats a permanent majority in Congress, where no one will have to speak English. Free stuff will be the lingua franca.

The nice way to say this is to say, as the president himself does, that immigration reform will be the proud legacy of a compassionate president. He opened the spigot of a steady stream of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Emma Lazarus could have written a poem about it.

Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, says executive amnesty — issued in violation of ample precedent if not the law — will be "waving a red flag in front of a bull." John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, says Mr. Obama will "burn himself" if he does it. The Washington Post concedes that such amnesty would be "giving the middle finger" to the incoming Republican majorities (and to the voters who sent them to Washington).

"But Obama doesn't care," says a congressional Democrat who doesn't relish being in the minority for years to come. "McConnell's red flag, middle finger, whatever, is not just a provocation to the new Republican majority, but to the public. I think the president expects that bull to act like a cow, but this time it might not be so docile."

Some Democrats, forever in search of the illusive silver lining, are counting on a groundswell of anger against the Republicans when they do what they promised to do. Against all the evidence, they think the public actually loves Mr. Obama and his schemes and will soon enough be looking for opportunities to show repentance for Nov. 4.

The president delayed his executive amnesty to help several embattled Democratic senators — Mark L. Pryor in Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay R. Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Udall in Colorado and Mark Begich in Alaska — and they lost, or are about to lose, anyway. Mr. Obama is said to be pouting, because none of the Democratic incumbents wanted to be seen in public with him, so great was the partisan stench. They wouldn't fall on their swords for him, so why should he care?

The new congressional Republicans are not the docile cud-chewers of yesteryear, eager to make nice in the clutch and preserve a route of retreat. They're not likely to take the advice of the consultants hired two years ago to tell the party how to more profitably behave.

"We are not a policy committee," the wiseheads concluded, "but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all." (You can actually get paid in Washington for writing and saying stuff like this.)

This was advice fortunately not taken, and the party picked up a dozen seats in the House and won back the Senate, and despite aggressive Republican pushback against Mr. Obama's immigration "reform," the exit polls on Nov. 4 showed that Republicans won 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, still a minority but up sharply from the 29 percent won by Mitt Romney two years ago.

Sometimes little straws in the wind measure true velocity. Two years ago, the Oregon legislature, in strong bipartisan numbers, enacted a law making illegals eligible for driver's licenses, citizen or not. This year a group of dissenters managed to put a repeal referendum on the ballot. The repealers were outspent by a margin of 10 to 1, but repeal won, 66 to 34 percent, a galvanic landslide by anybody's measure. Nobody was trying to be mean to prospective legal immigrants; exit polling on Election Day showed that most conservative voters actually want to find a way for the illegals to stay.

Voters are befuddled, says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, and often support for immigration reform is overstated. Nobody wants to be called Scrooge. "Whenever the public gets a clear-cut, black and white issue for tougher controls, even in Oregon, [voters] support them. It really highlights how this is not a Republican vs. liberal issue, like taxes and abortion, but an up-or-down issue of the elites vs. the public."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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