Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Obama's SOTU buries immigration up front without any detail
I'm inclined to say it was the least bad statement on immigration that he or George W. Bush have made in the SOTU addresses. It felt buried.
And despite the fact that the news media has been making it seem like immigration is about 60% of Mr. Obama's agenda for this year, he gave it only a perfunctory paragraph. Here it is:
"Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year. Let's get it done. It's time."
Of course, we know the absolutely horrible things Mr. Obama would do under the term "immigration reform."
But it seems a good sign that he thought it would be harmful to his cause to tell Americans anything specific that he wants on immigration.
We had been told ahead of time that he would play nice with his immigration statement so as not to offend House Republicans who he is trying to win over. Still, I was a bit surprised -- and I think encouraged -- by his timidity.
Republicans picked one of the House's top party leaders -- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Wash.) -- to deliver the response.
Because many news media have practically declared the inevitability of House Republicans helping pass an amnesty this year, I was much more interested to hear what she would say.
Since she didn't really mention that many issues, it wasn't a good sign that she and her colleagues thought she should make such a big deal about immigration reform. Still, hers was also just a paragraph and more vague than specific:
"And yes, it’s time to honor our history of legal immigration. We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."
But her rhetoric is vague enough that the Republicans at their Chesapeake Bay retreat Wednesday through Friday won't have to embarrass her or seem to reject her when they show no enthusiasm for the GOP leadership's definition of "imigration reform."
Back when I was a congressional correspondent sitting in the press box overlooking the SOTU proceedings, I took a lot of notes on how and when particular Members responded to parts of the speech. I had to depend on the camera feed for the TV networks, but I was intrigued with what I saw from the top 3 House Republican leaders during the President's immigration paragraph.
After his first sentence ending in "fix our broken immigration system," Vice President Biden quickly moved to his feet as did all Democrats in a pretty resounding ovation.
That certainly put Speaker Boehner in a tough position. He knew the cameras were on him. His corporate donors want him to give Mr. Obama what he wants. But Mr. Boehner also had earlier this morning seen a strong negative reaction from his Republican Members to the news reports about a possible GOP legalization plan. Does the Speaker rehearse his reactions ahead of time? What would he do on this one?
I was relieved that Mr. Boehner didn't seem to have the slightest inclination to stand the way leaders of the "other party" sometimes feel they have to when baseball, mom and apple pie are being lauded. Instead, Mr. Boehner gave a non-commital facial expression and slowly applauded while remaining seated.
The camera swung to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who was giving a moderate applause while looking very serious. At the edge of the camera shot was the No. 3 House Republican Kevein McCarthy also being careful not to look too enthusiastic, despite recently saying that he looked forward to moving legislation that gives work permits and legalization to most illegal aliens.
It looked like maybe a half-dozen Republicans were confident enough of their constituents to stand with the Democrats in the ovation.
At the end of the President's immigration paragraph, there was more heavy applause. The camera caught Mr. Cantor not joining at first and then offering a pretty slow clap.
I'm not going to read too much into what the various body language tells us about where these GOP leaders stand but I think tells us worlds about where they think their constituency stands.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).