Trusting Obama — Not: Republicans Pairing Immigration with Obamacare

Photograph by Richard Rasmussen/The Sentinel-Record/AP Photo

Rep. Tom Cotton, right, a Republican who represents Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District, talks with Tom Yancey of Hot Springs, Ark., at the First Church of the Nazarine in Hot Springs, Ark., on July 3, 2013. Cotton was attending a”Coffee with your Congressman” event at the church.

Suddenly, it’s all about Obama.

Republican opponents of the immigration reform that has cleared the Senate with President Barack Obama’s blessing are giving voice to newly focused criticism that may also serve as a cover for their core resistance to a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Trusting Obama to carry out the plan. They say they can’t.

And they’re evoking “Obamacare” as Exhibit A.

Immigration reform, they will argue, equals Obamacare: Too big to succeed.

The Obama administration’s rollback of a requirement that employers with 50 or more workers offer health insurance for  them — pushing back the so-called employer mandate until 2015, after the midterm congressional elections — has handed House Republicans who opposed Obamacare from the start fresh fodder for their argument.

“The American people want our border secured, our laws enforced, and the problems in our immigration system fixed to strengthen our economy,” House Speaker John Boehner and fellow Republican leaders said in a joint statement after their party caucused yesterday — a statement that clearly was written before they started caucusing.

“But they don’t trust a Democratic-controlled Washington, and they’re alarmed by the president’s ongoing insistence on enacting a single, massive, Obamacare-like bill rather than pursuing a step-by-step, common-sense approach to actually fix the problem,” Boehner and company said. “The president has also demonstrated he is willing to unilaterally delay or ignore significant portions of laws he himself has signed, raising concerns among Americans that this administration cannot be trusted to deliver on its promises to secure the border and enforce laws as part of a single, massive bill like the one passed by the Senate.”

Rep. Tom Cotton, a first-term Republican from Arkansas, stated it more painstakingly today in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg’s Greg Giroux notes that the party has huge hopes for Cotton, a Harvard University and Harvard Law School graduate who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan — party fundraisers want to run him against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor next year.

“What’s to stop President Obama from refusing to enforce this law?” Cotton writes of the immigration bill. “After all, he just announced he won’t enforce ObamaCare’s employer mandate because of complaints from big business. It that’s his attitude toward his biggest legislative accomplishment, imagine what he’ll do when big business complains about, say, an employment-verification system (in the bill aimed at preventing the hiring of the undocumented) he never wanted to begin with.”

Cotton reportedly stood in that Republican caucus yesterday and said the same thing the headline on his Journal essay says: “It’s the House Bill or Nothing on Immigration.” That means a bill focused on border security.

At the same time, Cotton is speaking in terms that have gotten his own party in trouble on this issue before. “Effective border enforcement,” he writes, “requires a border fence.” Instead of that, he notes, the Senate bill “throws billions of dollars at the border for new border patrol agents (though not until 2017) and sensor technologies.

“When I was a solder in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he writes, “my units relied on guards and technology to secure our bases, but the first line of defense was always a physical perimeter.”

Painting immigrants from Mexico as the enemy isn’t going to go a long way toward that stated Republican Party goal of re-branding itself following an election in which 71 percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama’s re-election.

At the same time, it’s easier for Cotton’s colleagues to complain about trusting Obama than admitting to those Hispanic voters that they have no sympathy for a path to citizenship.

The president is in somewhat of a bind on this question.  He has refrained from taking too visible a stance in the debate, for fear that the Republican-run House is poised to oppose anything with his name on it. Yet now his advisers are suggesting that he may ultimately have to take charge.

“The president’s advisers recognize that if, at some point, the legislation is headed for failure they must first mount an all-out public campaign that demonstrates a commitment to an immigration overhaul to supporters, including Hispanic and Asian voters,” Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning reports today. “Obama, who mostly stayed in the background during debate on the Senate bill, is considering visiting electoral battlegrounds with important Hispanic constituencies such as Nevada, Colorado or Florida to press for action in the Republican-run House… Plans are already under way to send Cabinet members around the country and for Obama to rally support through interviews with Spanish-language media.”

The problem with an Obama offensive is Obama, Ezra Klein writes at Bloomberg View.

“For the White House, immigration reform perfectly encapsulates the most frustrating reality of President Barack Obama’s second term: If it’s to be a success, Obama needs to stay out of the lawmaking process,” Klein writes. “That’s the message he’s gotten from Democratic and Republican legislators alike. In the New Yorker, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey recounted a White House meeting at which he told Obama how Republicans would respond to public appeals on immigration. “Right now, if you put out your bill, they will feel like they’re being cornered,” he said. Obama wasn’t happy, Menendez recalled. “He basically said, ‘After you guys pushed me so hard in not so subtle tones, being critical at times about lacking leadership, now you’re asking me to hold off?’’

The other problem for Obama is the counter-offensive that Boehner, Cotton and allies already are mounting. The more the president steps forward on immigration, the more they will remind anyone who will listen about Obamacare.

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