President Barack Obama has been all about his power of the pen and phone recently – as promised in his State of the Union Address — changing wages for federal employees and requiring overtime pay, pushing efforts on manufacturing hubs, and creating five “promise zones.” However, in one area he’s taking a step back, capping the pen, cradling the phone, and looking meaningfully at Congress. That’s immigration.
“Comprehensive immigration reform requires action by Congress. The President is always interested in moving the ball forward on his agenda where he can, even if Congress refuses to act. But there are some things that require congressional action, and this is one of them,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last week. For that reason, immigration reform isn’t likely to stem from the president this year. From the looks of the following key political factors, it’s not going to happen in Congress, either.
1. Much to Lose, Less to Gain
Politically, immigration is a divisive topic. It’s highly likely that regardless of what politicians do, someone within their votership — supporters, business backers, or parties — is going to be angry with them. Everyone from businesses to social justice interests can agree that America’s immigration system needs addressing. Everyone from Obama, to Jeb Bush, to Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) has discussed the urgency with which the subject demands attention. However, when staring down the barrel of an election vital to the balance of power on the left and right, one that’s bound to be tight in more than a few states, successful but controversial immigration reform is not the topic that incumbents want on their list of vulnerabilities. This is especially true for Republican congress members who represent state with high populations of voting immigrants, and slightly less true for Democrats, who will likely be hurt eventually by continued avoidance of the topic.
2. Main Concerns Elsewhere
While immigration is acknowledged by all to be important, it’s not what’s keeping most voting Americans up at night, at least according to a new Gallup poll taken between May 8 and 11. When asked what the most important problems facing the U.S. were, 20 percent pointed to unemployment and jobs, 19 percent chose dissatisfaction with government — i.e. Congress, politicians, leadership, corruption, power abuse — and 17 percent picked the economy as the most important problem. Immigration was tied for last at 3 percent, alongside the gap between rich and poor, the environment, and race relations, and down 1 percent from the last polling in early April.
Split by parties, the percentages remain very low for immigration, led by 5 percent of Republicans, followed by 4 percent of Independents, and 2 percent of Democrats. With Americans showing the greatest concerns on economy, unemployment, and the leadership itself, concentrating on legislation to spark growth and increase jobs makes the most sense, or focusing on state specific legislative goals such as coal, guns, or Obamacare.
3. Parties Split
As if a split in opinion between Democrats and Republicans weren’t enough, immigration has the GOP and the Tea Party splintered as well — both between each other and internally. Some Republicans are promising reform once they gain a majority in Congress, others say they don’t trust Obama to enforce anything they pass, so it will have to wait considerably longer. “Nobody trusts the president, and that’s just the reality,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.) “Can the president re-establish his credibility in the next two months with the House, with the American people or with our allies? No. I think he can hopefully not make it worse,” he said, according to The Hill.
Then there’s the Tea Party, who has voiced a desire to enact reform now, Democrats and Obama aside. “Our economy, our security, and our citizens deserve a system that works. Tea Party voters want solutions to the real problems facing America and immigration is no exception,” said Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express, to The Washington Post. “We encourage Congress to take action this year and provide conservative, free-market, common sense solutions to the problems in our immigration system,” he said. This is certainly indicative of a different voter group and different party mentality — rather than focusing on the inability to pass effective policy with the Democratic and Republican balance as it stands, Tea Partyists recognize the potential for better electability should they at least make a show of fighting for the reform.
Compared to Gallup’s more overarching poll, a new poll from the Partnership for a New American Economy, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Tea Party Express showed Republican-specific voters highly in favor of immigration reform. Seventy-one percent said that it was important for Congress to pass reform this year. Of these responders, 69 percent strongly identified with the Tea Party.
Boehner has been similarly working for most of this year to pass immigration reform. However, he’s been bizarrely aligned with Democrats rather than Republicans who are considerably more hesitant to approach the subject. “To their credit, I think Speaker Boehner and some of the other leaders there do believe that immigration reform’s the right thing, but they’ve got to have a space that allows them to get ahead and get it through their caucus and get it done,” said Obama last Tuesday, warning that there only remains a small window in which to pass reform before elections take over completely. Signs point to that window already being closed.
More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- Where Are America’s Immigrants From? (Hint: It’s Not Just Mexico)
- Is Obamacare Boosting Health Savings Accounts?
- Here’s Why Americans May Not Turn Out for Elections This Year
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS