For a guy who was finally fulfilling a promise he first made more than six years ago, President Barack Obama didn’t seem too happy about it. Maybe that’s because he knows his plan to defer deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants, outlined in Thursday night’s speech, is a partial and temporary fix that is likely to make Washington a meaner, smaller place.
His speech had all the usual hallmarks of a political set piece. His only real emotion, however, came in a flash of irritation at criticism from congressional Republicans that he was overstepping his authority. “To those members of Congress,” he snapped, “I have one answer: pass a bill.”
Obama would have done better to give the new Republican Congress a chance to take up immigration reform rather than issuing an executive order. But he didn’t, and now the ball is squarely in the Republicans’ court.
What can they do? They can shut down the government, but that would be shooting themselves in the foot, because the American people rightly blame Congress for such extremism. They can use Obama’s action as an excuse to do nothing on other major issues, but that would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. And they can complain endlessly, which they will no doubt do anyway.
They do have another option, the one they told voters they wanted most of all: the chance to govern.
It’s time for Republicans to put up or shut up. By now it’s clear what they’re against – the dreaded “a” word (amnesty). But what are they for? They can’t avoid that question any longer. Now that they are the majority party in both houses, they don’t have the luxury of sitting back and criticizing everything that Democrats propose. Now they’re in charge. They need to start acting like it.
If their criticism of Obama’s executive action is to have any credence, they need to back it up with action of their own, and that means beginning the work of formulating a bill, and holding hearings early in 2015. A great starting point, from both a policy and political standpoint, is the bipartisan bill the Senate passed last year.