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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Are Presidential Delays of Action the Right Call?

For as long as there has been public opinion polling, presidents have been influenced by the opinions of the electorate. For as long as presidents have been influenced by public opinion, they have virulently and invariably claimed that they are not influenced by politics and don't really care about polls. It's true that many of the most significant decisions that modern presidents have made were unpopular judgment calls that, in their estimations, were the right thing to do on policy grounds despite the political implications. Often, these presidents are rewarded by history for making such decisions. In many cases, these decisions are warranted because the consequences of not acting at that time would cause significant damage for the parties and interests involved or, most importantly, for the country's sake at large. However, what is also true is that there are certain consequential policy decisions that, for various reasons, are better left for implementation until after the next election campaign season has subsided. This reality exists because throwing a wrench like a major policy factor into a campaign season could mean that that decision is improperly influenced by politics in that it is watered down or adjusted in a way that properly adapts to the politics of the moment or this decision could harm key congressional allies of the President's in swing races that affect larger party control of a chamber and if that party loses such control, broader policy implications on an array of important fronts are negatively affected. Given such conflicting issues, it is difficult to ascertain, for me personally, whether presidential delays of action until after the elections are the right call. On the one hand, negative policy consequences and suffering for real people affected by the delays persist. On the other hand, there could be a greater political acceptance and ease and comfort in the Washington landscape in implementation if such a decision is carried out after the elections. On the whole, I tend to think President Obama's decision to delay implementation of his impending executive actions to provide broad deportation relief until after the midterm election is a good call. There are not many Latino voters in the southern states in which vulnerable Democratic senators are up for reelection, such action could harm their campaigns as they are seeking distance with the President who is very unpopular in those places, and the fact of the matter is that he and his administration could, in the mean time (before they announce their changes after the midterms) use their prosecutorial discretion to ease deportations or prioritize deportations to focus on individuals at the border or those in the interior who have committed very serious crimes and there's some evidence that lately, under Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, this has happened. Further, if the President is delaying action, it means that after the election, he has more leeway politically to "go bold" and "go big," as immigration reform advocates have been pressing him to do, and provide more large-scale relief to undocumented immigrants, as he will not be constrained by the politics. However, maybe I am wrong and if I am wrong on this issue, on which I am still open to persuasion, please let me know. In terms of historical precedent, by the way, it's worth noting President Bush delayed announcing the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld until after the 2006 midterms justifying his decision by saying in a press conference the day after the midterms that he did not want to insert a major decision like that into the political landscape before the elections. Was he right? Is Obama right here? Let me know your thoughts.