The political repercussions for supporting President Barack Obama’s planned executive amnesty could be so massive they could put Democratic U.S. Senate seats in bright blue states in play for Republicans in 2016—an open secret that Democrats on Capitol Hill seem to already know.
It’s also something Republicans seem to be gearing up to ensure Democrats don’t get away with, given the massive unpopularity of the move the president says he’s about to make.
“On November 4, the American people voted for a change in Washington. President Obama does not seem to have gotten the message,” incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) told Breitbart News on Monday. “The President and his liberal allies in Congress continue to believe we have an imminent deportation crisis. The reality is that we have a border security crisis. The president should work with the new Republican Congress and not act by executive decree – an opinion that most Americans also share with us.”
This comes as on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on Monday night, solidly liberal Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) was completely stumped when asked what he thought was the legal authority for Obama’s planned executive amnesty—specifically the handing of work permits to illegal aliens.
“No one at the White House has been able to give me the legal justification for the following component of the president’s plan which was leaked to the New York Times, the part where it says—and just to be clear at the outset, most of this is just prosecutorial discretion, it’s just law enforcement discretion, every chief executive has that from mayors to governors, police chiefs have that,” O’Donnell began asking Welch. “We understand most of it is just completely within the president’s power. The part that’s questionable is the part where the New York Times says that the president will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents.”
“Can you tell me, and has the White House told you, what is the legal justification for the president to create a new category of beneficiaries for work documents?” O’Donnell asked. “How can that be done without legislation?”
Welch was flabbergasted.
“You know, Lawrence, I can’t tell you,” Welch said. “And I’m not the lawyer who’s going to be litigating this case. So the answer to that will be decided by the courts as you and I know. But here’s what I can tell you—“
O’Donnell, unsatisfied with the non-answer, cut across Welch. “So, Congressman, as far you know, and I don’t mean to badger you about this but I’ve been on this for days now,” O’Donnell said. “I haven’t found a single elected Democrat, not one Democrat in Washington, who can answer the question that I just put to you. Have you heard it answered by any Democrats?”
“I haven’t,” Welch replied. “I haven’t.”
To hear Politico tell it, former President Bill Clinton—one of the Democrats’ top surrogates in the 2014 campaign cycle—thinks Obama waiting to enact his planned executive amnesty cost Democrats the election. Politico’s Maggie Haberman wrote that Clinton told the outlet’s top Washington scribe Mike Allen at an event in Little Rock, Arkansas, late last week “that President Barack Obama’s decision not to sign an executive order on immigration may have played a role in keeping some Hispanic voters at home.” Haberman did so under a blaring headline: “Clinton: No Obama immigration action may have hurt in midterms.”
But Clinton’s full comments seem to tell a different story about the matter.
Clinton said there was a “little bit of a loss of the Hispanic vote, perhaps because the president didn’t issue the immigration order.”
“But it was a tough call for him because had he done so then a lot of the others would have lost by even more,” Clinton said. “It was a difficult call.”
Clinton admits that many Democrats lose big politically if they’re tied to an effort by Obama to circumvent the nation’s laws to grant executive amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. At a different point in his back and forth with Politico’s Allen, Clinton added another jab at the president’s plans for an executive amnesty, saying Obama should try to work with Congress on immigration.
“I think he should minimize the chances of being a lame duck,” Clinton said of Obama. “Which he can do by continuing to have an agenda and using the budget process to make deals with the Republicans because now that they have both houses, they have a much greater vested interest in not just being against everything.”
“Once you get the budget process, you acquire certain responsibilities,” Clinton added. “So I hope he can pass immigration reform now and I think he can. I hope he can pass a tax reform measure and get some of that money back from overseas and put it into an infrastructure bank. There are five or six other things I think he could do. And I hope his people will keep coming up with new things.”
The language that Clinton was using—talking about having “immigration reform” that could “pass”—is very specific Washington-speak for taking a bill through Congress, especially in the context of Obama seeking to “make deals with the Republicans.” That means Clinton quite clearly thinks Obama should look at legislative options—even though he’s not clear about what Obama should do in terms of executive options.
After Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate in the midterm elections, the 2016 cycle has an electoral map that’s not as favorable to the GOP as the 2014 map was. Incumbent Democrats facing re-election will include California’s Barbara Boxer, Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, Hawaii’s Brian Schatz, Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, Nevada’s Harry Reid, New York’s Chuck Schumer, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, and Washington state’s Patty Murray.
Meanwhile, Republicans up for re-election will include Alabama’s Richard Shelby, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Arizona’s John McCain, Arkansas’s John Boozman, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson, Idaho’s Mike Crapo, Illinois’s Mark Kirk, Indiana’s Dan Coats, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Kansas’s Jerry Moran, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, North Dakota’s John Hoeven, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Oklahoma’s James Lankford, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, South Dakota’s John Thune, Utah’s Mike Lee, and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson. The Louisiana U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican David Vitter, which will open up and likely be filled by an appointment assuming Vitter wins the governor’s race in the Pelican State, will also be in play.
Depending on what happens in the Louisiana U.S. Senate runoff on Dec. 6 between Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu—a race Cassidy is expected to win—Republicans could either have 54 or 53 seats in the U.S. Senate for the next two years. It’s a decent three-or-four-seat majority, but with the aforementioned 2016 elections around the corner, Republicans are going to have their work cut out for them to defend the majority. It’s probably safe to say the Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, and North Dakota seats will remain Republican. But that leaves 10 Republican incumbents in likely-to-be-tough races, while the 10 incumbent Democrats up for re-election will each be tough to unseat.
If Democrats don’t screw up too badly over the next two years, they have a good chance of taking back the Senate Majority in 2016—no matter what happens with the presidential elections. Unless, of course, Republicans find a key issue to beat them with—and that issue just might be immigration, especially if the party moves in the populist direction that incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions has been practically screaming the party needs to go in.
Despite efforts by some in the mainstream media to paint Democrats in Congress as unified behind Obama’s planned executive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens, they’re not.
Almost every single incumbent Senate Democrat who survived the 2014 Republican wave came out forcefully against President Obama’s planned executive immigration action. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said during the final debate against former Sen. Scott Brown that she doesn’t “think the president should take any action on immigration.” Landrieu, who may not survive in the end but lasted through the first round of Louisiana’s jungle primary, said recently, “I do not support executive action.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who barely survived a surprisingly close challenge from establishment Republican Ed Gillespie—who ran in support of amnesty—said that “immigration reform needs to happen legislatively” and he was “troubled” by Obama’s plans.
Even Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), whose Republican challenger Mike McFadden lost by more than 10 points, said he has “concerns about executive action.”
“This is a job for Congress, and it’s time for the House to act,” Franken said.
In addition, on Monday, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid organized a letter to President Obama where a handful of Senate Democrats threw their support behind Obama’s planned executive amnesty.
“We strongly support your plan to improve as much of the immigration system as you can within your legal authority, and will stand behind you to support changes to keep families together while continuing to enforce our immigration laws in a way that protects our national security and public safety,” the small group of Senate Democrats wrote to the president.
It’s not surprising that Reid supports this action by Obama. What’s surprising about the effort by Reid is that he only managed to get his fellow Senate Democratic leadership team to sign the letter, while the vast majority of Senate Democrats conference wide aren’t putting their own political futures on the line backing Obama here.
The signers of the Democrat letter include Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Democratic conference vice chairman Chuck Schumer, outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Michael Bennet, outgoing Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Patty Murray, and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez. Four of those six Democrats were original cosponsors of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill.
On this letter, there is no signature from Liz Warren—the supposed “populist” Democrat from Massachusetts. Shaheen, after barely surviving a challenge from Republican Scott Brown—who ran aggressively on immigration and came within 3.2 points of beating Shaheen—did not sign it either. Neither did Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal, Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Joe Donnelly, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Claire McCaskill, Barbara Mikulski, Bill Nelson, or Jon Tester.
That Reid, the leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate, was able only to secure five signatures from fellow Democrats is noteworthy. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson hasn’t responded to a request for comment on why more Democrats didn’t sign the letter.
It’s also noteworthy that four of the six signers of the Reid letter, including Reid himself, are up for re-election in 2016. Schumer, Murray, and Bennet will also face the voters. Reid barely survived a tough challenge from rookie candidate Sharron Angle in 2010, and after that close call Republicans are sure to put up a better fight against him in 2016. Voters in Bennet’s Colorado just sent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) packing in favor of Republican senator-elect Cory Gardner, and Murray’s Washington or Schumer’s New York could always break for a Republican if the right candidate emerges in the right situation around the right issues.
If Republicans handle the issue of immigration correctly as Obama determines how to make his move, they could shore up many of those incumbent seats across the board with the issue—especially if they get behind the populist-style immigration policies from Sessions. They could also turn those Democratic seats that are up in 2016 into competitive races.
Oregon, where Wyden is running for re-election, just passed with 66 percent of the vote a measure to block illegal aliens from getting driver’s licenses. Maryland, where Mikulski faces re-election, just elected a Republican governor. Hawaii’s Schatz isn’t even safe from this in a solidly Democratic state, as one of the state’s two congressional seats turned out to be a less-than-two-point race in the end. And in Connecticut, Blumenthal may be in jeopardy as Republicans made some major gains using this issue in other parts of New England in the 2014 election cycle.