“The problem is that you know I’m the president of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed, and Congress right now has not changed what I consider to be a broken immigration system.” (Google Hangout, February 14, 2013)
What a difference 21 months and a mid-term election makes. With President Obama set to announce an Executive Order on Immigration tonight, it would appear that he has embraced his inner emperor. Or, in this case, his outer emperor as well. For a man who was supposed to rise above partisan politics (even though everyone knew that was never going to happen), the President’s legacy will be marked by his blatant disregard for faithfully executing the law of the land and his disdain for the rule of law.
For a former constitutional law professor, that should be an embarrassing turn of events. But, the emperor has no clothes and has no shame. Richard Nixon would be proud. The President, who could have passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation during his first two years in office when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, instead chose to focus his energy on passing the most partisan social legislation in our nation’s history, the Affordable Care Act.
And now, either intentionally (most likely) or ignorantly misreading the results of the recent mid-term elections, the President has decided to issue an Executive Order on Immigration that he had heretofore said he did not have the authority to issue. In fact, the Washington Post — that bastion of conservative thinking — gave President Obama a rare upside down Pinocchio on his flip-flop.
Now to be fair, the President does appear to technically have the plenary constitutional authority to pardon illegal immigrants (i.e., executive amnesty) and to exercise prosecutorial discretion in refusing to press for deportation of those in the country illegally. While I believe both of these are a willful disregard of his oath of office to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” there is precious little that a Republican Congress can do to stop the President from taking such actions.
However, the President will be on shaky constitutional ground if he tries to convey legal status or benefits upon illegal aliens. I fully expect him to do just that tonight, but options to reverse such a lawless action are likewise limited. The Congress can certainly use the “power of the purse” to limit enforcement of any action that they deem lawless, but none of the floated options are ideal.
If the shoe was on the other foot and a Republican President was so brazen in his actions — essentially thumbing his nose (or giving another hand signal) at a Democrat-controlled Congress, not to mention the American people — I’m quite sure that the Democrats would not go quietly into that sweet night. In fact, they might use the hard-ball political tactic that Texas Senator Ted Cruz broached on The Sean Hannity Show Wednesday night — refusing to confirm any of the President’s Executive or Judicial Branch nominees (except vital National Security officials) unless and until he rescinded his lawless Executive Order.
While that would certainly be within their authority, blocking all of President’s nominees would exacerbate an already fragile constitutional state. So, what’s a
emperor President to do when a recalcitrant Congress fails to pass legislation that he desperately wants? Here’s a novel idea — how about negotiating a good faith compromise which would allow a comprehensive immigration bill to not only come to the floor, but to pass with bi-partisan majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate?
Up until now, this President has not had to compromise. By many accounts, negotiating with his opponents does not seem to be President Obama’s strong suit. Building personal relationships with members of both parties on the Hill has not been a hallmark of this President. Some might say that Republicans are mostly to blame for this impasse, but Mr. Obama has always had the authority — both moral and political — to either build bridges or burn bridges. Compromise is not always a dirty word and no one will mistake President Obama with master politicians Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, both of whom were “people persons” and both of whom knew how to hammer out a deal with their political opponents. It seems that the current President, much like Richard Nixon, sees those across the aisle as enemies rather than opponents.
With his announcement tonight, it would appear that President Obama believes that building bridges is for suckers. Instead of bringing both parties TOGETHER to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the President is taking the law into his own hands. Perhaps he feels that he has no other option than to issue Executive Orders on such a grand scale. Maybe he thinks that Republicans in the new Congress will not support comprehensive immigration reform.
However, I believe most Americans — except those on the far left and the far right — want Congress to pass immigration reform which will both secure the border and provide a way for their illegal immigrant neighbors to come out of the shadows and get on a path to citizenship. In fact, a recent survey of 1,000 Protestant Pastors, conducted by Lifeway Research (affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) confirms this desire.
The survey also affirms Christian pastors’ willingness to help their neighbors, regardless of their neighbors’ immigrant status:
“About half (47 percent) of Protestant senior pastors say their church currently helps immigrants.
And most (79 percent) agree with the statement: “Christians have a responsibility to assist immigrants, even if they are in the country illegally.” One in 6 (17 percent) disagree.
More than three quarters of evangelical pastors (77 percent) and most mainline pastors (86 percent) agree. Most pastors under 45 (83 percent) and those in churches with 100 or more attenders (82 percent) agree.” (“How 1,000 Protestant Pastors Feel About Immigrants and Reform”)
Although I was not surveyed, I find myself in the majority when it comes to border security, a path to citizenship, and ministering to our immigrant neighbors. Many conservatives, particularly Evangelical Christians, are open to comprehensive immigration reform which actually makes our nation more secure at the borders while extending compassion and justice to some of the “least of these.”
But (and you knew there would be a but), no matter how laudable the goals of comprehensive immigration reform may be, these goals cannot be achieved by the lawless actions of an imperial President. We are a nation of laws, not of men. And, no man — not even the President of the United States — is above the law. Democrats used to believe that. And, if they won’t tell the President that the ends do not justify the means, then it will be up to Republicans to do whatever it takes to remind President Obama that he is not an emperor. If not, this Rome will burn while our modern-day Nero fiddles. That won’t be good for democracy. In fact, it won’t be good for anybody, not even for illegal immigrants.