WASHINGTON – Immigration reform has become the first of President Barack Obama’s major priorities dropped from the agenda of an election-year Congress facing voter disillusionment.
Sounding the death knell was Obama himself.
The president noted that lawmakers may lack the “appetite” to take on immigration while many of them are up for re-election and while another big legislative issue – climate change – is already on their plate.
“I don’t want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem,” Obama told reporters Wednesday night aboard Air Force One.
Immigration reform was an issue Obama promised Latino groups that he would take up in his first year in office. But several hard realities – a tanked economy, a crowded agenda, election-year politics and lack of political will – led to so much foot-dragging in Congress that, ultimately, Obama decided to set the issue aside.
With that move, the president calculated that an immigration bill would not prove as costly to his party two years from now, when he seeks re-election, than it would today, even though some immigration reformers warned that a delay could so discourage Democratic-leaning Latino voters that they would stay home from the polls in November.
Some Democrats thought pushing a bill through now might help their party, or at least their own re-election prospects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose campaign is struggling in heavily Hispanic Nevada, unveiled an outline – not legislation – on Thursday for an immigration bill at a packed news conference. Asked when it might advance, he declined to set an “arbitrary deadline.”
If immigration goes nowhere this year, Democrats can blame Republican resistance, though in reality many Democrats didn’t want to deal with an immigration bill this year either.
The Democrats’ draft proposal called for, among other things, meeting border security benchmarks before anyone in the country illegally can become a legal permanent U.S. resident.