At 9 a.m.: Day 3 of Public Impeachment Hearings

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    Immigration showdown: Can the GOP keep its zealots under control?

     House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported, a use of executive powers that is setting up a fight with Republicans in Congress over the limits of presidential powers, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner, who has refused to have his members vote on broad immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year, said earlier that Obama's decision to go it alone 'cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.' (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to President Barack Obama's intention to spare millions of illegal immigrants from being deported, a use of executive powers that is setting up a fight with Republicans in Congress over the limits of presidential powers, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner, who has refused to have his members vote on broad immigration legislation passed by the Senate last year, said earlier that Obama's decision to go it alone 'cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left.' (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

    Of all the bad jobs in America – garbage collector, toll booth worker, septic tank cleaner – maybe the worst is GOP leader. Granted, there’s no physical labor and the pay is decent. But it’s got to be a drag spending so much time hosing down the unhinged.

    That’s the leadership team’s top priority at the moment, now that President Obama has acted to defer the deportation of millions of unauthorized immigrants. His executive order – on solid constitutional grounds, as recognized just two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court – signals his desire to keep Hispanic families together (he’s pro-family values),  and naturally that has prompted his pro-deportation critics to bleed from their eyeballs.

    Obama is actually fine with that. He knows that if the extremists make a spectacle of themselves, the GOP will cement its intolerant image – at a time (according to a new bipartisan poll) when 74 percent of Americans support path-to-citizenship reform coupled with rigorous eligibility requirements – and that the GOP will further alienate itself from the fastest-growing electorate in America.

    I am referring, of course, to Hispanics – the voters who potentially swing the presidential vote in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia, and North Carolina; the voters who have already decimated Republican prospects in the biggest prize of all, California.

    In the aftermath of the ’12 election, the Republican National Committee warned in a lengthy autopsy report: “If Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their eyes to our policies.” And yesterday, Republican pollster Bill McInturff warned that if the GOP intends to oppose Obama’s executive action, it should do so with the “appropriate tenor,” or else it risks “alienating the Latino community.”

    Too late!

    Sen. James Coburn warns that in the wake of Obama’s executive order, “the country’s going to go nuts….You could see violence.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an ascendent tea-party figure, says that Obama’s plan is all about “replacing American voters with illegal aliens,” a scenario that ultimately could lead to “ethnic cleansing.” Sen John Cornyn says that Obama’s executive order is “illegal,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry says it’s “unconstitutional,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says it’s “the height of arrogance,” Congressman Steve King (at one time a fringe anti-immigration figure) says that Obama is “defying his own oath to the Constitution and the rule of law,” Michele Bachmann says Obama’s big aim is to increase the number of “illterate” Democratic voters…you get the drift.

    What’s most noteworthy, however, is that despite all this verbal spittle, Republican leaders have not vowed to take Obama to court. Why not? Because they’d probably get stomped.

    As more than 130 legal scholars have pointed out (in a letter that I linked on Tuesday),  and as the White House counsel has detailed in a newly released memo, Obama’s executive order is in sync with long-settled presidential powers in the realm of immigration. In his speech last night, Obama said “I have the legal authority,” and he’s right. Two years ago, in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court – including John Roberts, in an opinion written by fellow Republican appointee Anthony Kennedy – ruled that the executive branch has the power to set deportation priorities, to essentially decide, amid limited enforcement resources, who’s worth kicking out and who is not. 

    A key passage in the court’s ruling: “The principle feature of the (deportation) system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials,” as directed by the president – and that includes the power to determine “whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.” Accordingly, Obama said last night: “We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day….That’s why we’re going to keep focusing (deportation) resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

    So clearly, the GOP needs to decide whether it will respond with maturity – by getting down to the business of governing, by figuring out via reform legislation how to best deal with the 12 million immigrants who are already threaded into the American fabric – or whether it will succumb to its  loudest voices and basest instincts. As GOP pollster David Winston tactfully lamented yesterday, “There are some people, because there’s not a consensus, that somehow end up having a little bit louder voice than perhaps they would normally have.”

    Fortunately, there are some sensible souls. Sen. Jeff Flake said, “I hope we respond with legislation. I hope we pass legislation.” Jeb Bush said, “It is time for Republican leaders in Congress to act. We must demonstrate to Americans we are the party that will tackle serious challenges and build broad-based consensus to achieve meaningful reforms.” Former national GOP chairman Michael Steele said that the party’s loudmouths should “get a grip.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a potential presidential candidate, said that path-to-citizenship reform might be the way to go: “We’ve got to think about what’s going to bring about healing. My sense is, I don’t like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, but we may have to do it.”

    But just imagine how a debate audience would respond if Kasich says something like that. Odds are, the impending ’16 primaries will feature Republicans vying among themselves to denounce Obama’s anti-deportation order with increasingly shrill rhetoric, thus driving the party even further from the American mainsteam on immigration reform.

    Forgive the cliche: Obama has put the ball in the GOP’s court. The question now whether the party has the capacity to tame its id.

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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