Everyone in the press remarking how smart President Obama is playing this: freshly reelected, the president is nevertheless taking a back seat and letting the Senate drive the immigration bill.
But Obama is playing it even smarter than that. He is in fact in the driver’s seat, steering the legislation toward its ultimate passage.
Nothing will happen in Congress that Obama doesn’t approve of. The Democrats, led by Obama’s closest Senate ally, Sen. Richard Durbin (D- Ill.), will be doing Obama’s bidding. This is the top agenda item for his second term, and the president is going to craft the bill.
Remember, Obama supposedly let Congress take the lead on health care and the stimulus too. What was the result? Everything he always wanted.
Obama’s problem is that he knows he needs Republicans to pass legislation. Unlike health care, he’s not going to be able to claim immigration is a budget issue and avoid a filibuster. He’ll need 60 votes in the Senate, and enough House Republicans to get the bill through over there.
So what we are seeing right now is not a “strategy,” but a subterfuge. Obama knows that the more his fingerprints are on the legislation, the less likely he is to receive Republican support. So he will do his work on the phone with Democrats, making sure the bill is within the parameters he sets.
Tuesday’s event in Las Vegas, where Obama proposed nothing of his own but aligned himself with the Senate “process,” was an effort to stake at least some public claim to the issue. Obama will want to be able to take full credit once the legislation is actually passed, so he needs to at least appear partially engaged.
But mostly he’ll let Congress seem to take the lead, while he issues orders and threats behind the scenes. The Democrats will listen because they need Obama, and they need his new personal mass movement, Organizing for America, to provide the foot soldiers to drum up support among the population.
But Obama will publicly be in charge of the Division of Shame, Guilt & Demonization. That is, he will threaten Republicans with permanent status as racist Hispanic-haters if they refuse to accept whatever immigration bill is bubbling up out of the Congressional cloakrooms.
In the end, a bill will begin to move that looks like it does enough on enforcement of the border to gain the handful of Republican votes necessary for passage.
And once Obama signs it, his administration will “interpret” the enforcement provisions however it wants, and a new movement in Congress will begin to junk them altogether.