Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds a news conference Nov. 13 with the newly-elected members of the House GOP leadership in Washington, D.C. Boehner announced that the House will continue to push back against President Barack Obama's executive actions.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds a news conference Nov. 13 with the newly-elected members of the House GOP leadership in Washington, D.C. Boehner announced that the House will continue to push back against President Barack Obama's executive actions.

There are an estimated 11 million people living illegally in the United States. In 2012, President Obama granted hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people protection from deportation. One year later, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to overhaul immigration enforcement. But the Republican-led House of Representatives never took it up. Now, President Obama is poised to issue an executive order which could expand protection from deportation to as many as five million people. Supporters say congressional inaction has left the president with no other choice. But critics say it goes too far. And speaker John Boehner says he’ll sue the president. Diane and guests discuss the debate over executive action on immigration.


  • Whit Ayres President and founder of North Star Opinion Research
  • Laura Meckler Staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
  • Simon Rosenberg President and founder, NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization
  • Fernand Amandi Managing partner, Bendixen & Amandi International, a communications and consulting firm that tracks Latino voting trends and behavior


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama is expected to issue an executive order on immigration enforcement in the coming weeks. The new law could protect as many as 5 million people living illegally in the U.S. from deportation. Supporters say executive action is necessarily in the face of congressional inaction, but House Republicans have threatened to sue President Obama if he issues the order.

  • 10:07:30

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to discuss President Obama's looming executive action on immigration and the political fallout, Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research. Joining us from a studio at WLRN in Miami, Florida, Fernand Amandi of Bendixen and Amandi International, a firm tracking Latino voter trends and behavior.

  • 10:08:09

    MS. DIANE REHMI'll look forward to hearing your calls, comments throughout the hour. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you, thank you for joining us.

  • 10:08:31

    MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:08:32

    MR. SIMON ROSENBERGDiane, great to be here.

  • 10:08:33

    MR. WHIT AYRESGood to be with you.

  • 10:08:33

    MR. FERNAND AMANDIGood morning.

  • 10:08:33

    REHMGood to see you all. Laura Meckler, I'll start with you. We're here at a point on immigration where the president is on the verge of taking executive action. How did we get here?

  • 10:08:53

    MECKLERWell, for many years, people in both parties, mostly Democrats, but many Republicans, too, have wanted to do an immigration overhaul that would include, among other things, some sort of legal status for the people who, now about 11 million people in the country illegally. It has never made it through Congress. Last year, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill. There was a lot of hope for that.

  • 10:09:15

    MECKLERIt died in the House. And after a year of no action in the House, there was a lot of pressure on President Obama to use whatever executive authority he had to try to provide some safe harbor for deportation for these people. Now -- or for as many as possible. He had already done something along these lines in 2012, as you may remember, when he offered sort of what was called deferred action for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

  • 10:09:39

    MECKLERNow, about half a million people are in that program now. And he'd explained that as the time as these were people who had done nothing wrong themselves. They were brought here by their parents. Well, now we're talking about helping their parents and so this is a little bit more difficult politically, but he is under enormous pressure and has been all year from immigration advocates to act on his own.

  • 10:09:59

    MECKLERSo now that the Congress has not done anything, he's postponed it a couple of times, but we're at sort of the day of reckoning and he is about to act.

  • 10:10:06

    REHMAnd when do you think he might act?

  • 10:10:10

    MECKLERWell, there's been a lot of debate in the White House about that. This whole thing, as I'm sure we're get into here, has been tied up with a funding bill that has to get passed through Congress. So there was some thinking that maybe, hey, let's wait till that funding bill clears...

  • 10:10:23

    REHMDecember 11.

  • 10:10:24

    MECKLERDecember 11, it must pass by. And then, you know, we don't have to -- they can just pass that without worrying about this. Well, of course, we're in an age where that just doesn't work anymore. People who are against this know what's happening and they're still tying up the two together and threatening to, essentially, hold up the funding bill over this issue. So it's unclear, given how the debate is playing out.

  • 10:10:44

    MECKLERThere's another side inside the White House that says, you know what, let's just go out, do it, then we can be out there defending it and our supporters can be out there defending it. Until then, we don't even know what the "it" is. I mean, we've reported a lot of what we think the details are likely to be. Other's have as well, but we don't yet know exactly what this package is going to look like and I just want to add one other thing.

  • 10:11:03

    MECKLERWhile this is the center piece of the package, there are going to many other elements to it as well, some of other -- which others maybe more popular.

  • 10:11:11

    REHMSimon Rosenberg, do you believe an executive order on immigration is the right way to go at this point?

  • 10:11:19

    ROSENBERGI do. And I think it's going to be important for the president to stay focused on why this is in the national interest for the United States, how it's gonna improve the economy, improve our public safety, improve border security. And I think most importantly, and we'll get to this, is that the president promised. I mean, he told John Boehner and the Republicans earlier this year, and told the country, that if the Republicans didn't act that he would.

  • 10:11:40

    ROSENBERGAnd so he's keeping his promise in a principled way. This may actually end up being very unpopular with the public, depending on how it plays out. He's not doing this, I think, politically. He's doing this because it's in the best interest of the United States and the national interest of the country.

  • 10:11:55

    REHMBut he's saying he's going to do it before the end of the year so it's not a new Congress. Why do it now? Why not wait and see what this Congress or the new Congress does and then move forward?

  • 10:12:14

    ROSENBERGBecause the president told John Boehner earlier this year that if he didn't act, he would act by the end of the year. And I think we have no reason to believe that the Republicans have any interest in moving on immigration reform in the new Congress with more Republicans in a way that would be consistent with what the Democrats would support. So I think the president made a commitment to the American people that if there wasn't comprehensive immigration reform, he would act.

  • 10:12:38

    ROSENBERGHe's doing it. That's what principled leaders do.

  • 10:12:40

    REHMSo Whit Ayres, why is the president wrong to take executive action considering the inaction of the Congress?

  • 10:12:51

    AYRESDiane, this is the worst idea ever. Everybody believes that we have a broken immigration system that needs to be fixed, but taking executive action, particularly at this time, is horrible on so many levels. It undermines supporters and emboldens opponents of lasting immigration reform. It'll make it incredibly difficult to move a bill through a Republican-controlled House or Senate if he does this.

  • 10:13:26

    AYRESIt dramatically reduces the possibility of any cooperation between this president and a Republican Congress. Keep in mind, we're gonna have a dozen new Senators, probably, after the Louisiana runoff. Almost all of them have run on a promise to break the gridlock and get something done in Washington. Not just the new people, but people like Lamar Alexander in Tennessee who just won with 62 percent of the vote.

  • 10:13:52

    AYRESHe was reelected talking about getting a new Republican majority to do good things for the country, but if the president does this, it is as though he looked at those 12 new Senators and before they were even sworn into office, poked a finger right in their eye.

  • 10:14:11

    REHMSo what are Republicans likely to do if he does move forward with an executive order?

  • 10:14:21

    AYRESWell, we can debate specific moves that they might take, but the larger picture is that it is going to make it exceedingly difficult to get anything done on any other issues. There is a narrow window of opportunity that's open right now and the president seems willing to slam it shut before the new Congress is even office.

  • 10:14:45

    REHMDo you think that the lame duck Congress on its own might move toward immigration reform?

  • 10:14:55

    AYRESI doubt that. I think you're gonna have to get the new people in. But Diane, I think the president -- it's almost like he's unable to make halftime adjustments in his game plan so that the second half of his second term can be better than the first half. It's just like -- it's as though he wants to run the play he called before halftime, even though there are a bunch of new people on the field.

  • 10:15:21

    REHMAll right. Let's turn to Fernand Amandi. What's your sense? How important is it to the Latin -- the Hispanic community that the president does this by executive order before the end of the year?

  • 10:15:42

    AMANDIDiane, I'm not so sure that it's the executive order. I think it's just action on immigration and action that, from the perspective of the Hispanic community in the United States is somewhat overdue. I think Simon touched on it earlier. Since he ran for the presidency in 2008 and in his reelection campaign in 2012, the president has said at the center of his agenda is passing and fixing the nation's broken system.

  • 10:16:05

    AMANDISo I think any action at this point will be certainly welcomed by the Hispanic population, although they have become somewhat antsy, perhaps even a little cynical, given the political gamesmanship that's happened on both sides. I think the challenge for Republicans, however, is that all of the opinion polling that we have conducted and that I think has been done by others seems to show that the Hispanic electorate squarely puts the blame on lack of action on immigration reform on the Republicans.

  • 10:16:34

    AMANDISo right now, they're seen as the -- those that are responsible, those that need to be blamed. And I think the president's action is one that will be welcomed.

  • 10:16:43

    REHMSo if Republicans block the president on this issue, what would be the response in the Hispanic community?

  • 10:16:57

    AMANDIWell, again, I think that's the political pickle that they find themselves in. You look at, Diane, just the last two election cycles, the presidential cycle of 2012, where Hispanics rewarded the Democrats with 71 percent of the national vote. And even in this last election of 2014 where, you know, you didn't quite necessarily see the numbers, it was still a 62/36 advantage. Those are numbers, when you look at the electoral map, that just don't add up for Republicans who want to take back the ultimate prize, which is, of course, the White House in 2016.

  • 10:17:28

    AMANDIAnd I think now that they are already seen as the villains, if you will, of this storyline, the villains that have blocked efforts over the last nine years, the four distinct efforts, and really having had a bipartisan Senate bill on the table been able to do nothing, I think they're gonna yield a lot of the blame here.

  • 10:17:45

    REHMFernand Amandi, he is managing partner at Bendixen and Amandi International. That's a firm tracking Latino voting trends and behavior. Short break here. We'll take your calls, you comments when we come back.

  • 10:19:58

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about immigration law, whether the president will move forward on immigration with an executive order, and what might happen if he does. We've gotten lots of questions. This one sort of sums it up, Laura Meckler. "Republicans claim the president's proposed actions on immigration are illegal. Is this true?"

  • 10:20:32

    MECKLERWell, of course there are many opinions on that point, however first I think it helps to understand what is the legal rational for allowing this to happen. And what it is is the concept of prosecutorial discretion. Essentially the government doesn't have the resources, doesn't have the ability or even the interest in necessarily deporting all 11 million people who are here. So we can sort of pick and choose, decide who it is who's going to be deported and who isn't by default not going to be deported.

  • 10:20:59

    MECKLERThat combines with this concept of deferred action which is not specifically authorized in the law but there are references to it in the law and has been used by many presidents in the past. On a slightly smaller -- usually a smaller scale -- always a smaller scale, I should say, but has been used in the past which is basically you say to people who are here illegally, you know, you don't get quote unquote "amnesty" in the sense that you're not going to just get -- you're not forgiven and you get to live like everybody else. You get sort of a temporary reprieve.

  • 10:21:27

    MECKLERWe're saying, for now -- it could be changed but for now we're not going to deport you. And, in fact, we're going to give you perhaps a work permit. So that's the concept behind it, this idea of deferred action, a temporary reprieve, prosecutorial discretion.

  • 10:21:40

    MECKLERNow there are a lot of lawyers, law professors, legal experts who say this is absolutely legal. Whether it's a good policy or not is a separate question. There are others who say, no, he's taking this so far -- it's been done in the past, sure, for smaller groups but he's taking it so far, perhaps 4 or 5 million people, that it's too much. You're bending it to the point of breaking and that's the question.

  • 10:22:03

    REHMWhit Ayres, how do you see it?

  • 10:22:07

    AYRESI'm not an attorney but it seems to me that prosecutorial discretion normally applies to individuals about whether you prosecute this person in this particular case or not. I've never heard of it applying to millions of people, which makes it seem like it's simply an excuse to ignore the law.

  • 10:22:27

    AYRESSo do you see President Obama overstepping his constitutional authority?

  • 10:22:35

    AYRESI believe this action, if he takes it, will be viewed as illegitimate by a great many Americans.

  • 10:22:43

    REHMSimon Rosenberg, how do you see it?

  • 10:22:46

    ROSENBERGI think the law is pretty clear that he's got the authority to do this. I think the -- you know, there's been ample precedent for presidents going all the way back to Eisenhower who've taken similar action. And I think the most important thing to realize is that, you know, this fits into the context, as Laura was saying, of other incremental steps the president's been taking in recent years while congress hasn't acted.

  • 10:23:08

    ROSENBERGAnd so he's been using -- he used prosecutorial discretion widely to apply to a large class of people starting back in 2011 in something known as the Morton Memos, which is something we're all going to get to know very well in the next couple of months. It's going to be discussed quite a bit, and it's helped make the immigration system far better. Crime along the U.S.-Mexico border is down across the entire border. The two safest large cities in America today are El Paso and San Diego, the two largest cities along the border. The net flow of undocumented immigrants in the country today is zero.

  • 10:23:39

    ROSENBERGAnd so what we've seen is that these have been parts of incremental steps that have focused on deporting criminals first, toughening up on the border. It's been successful policy. He's going to do more of it.

  • 10:23:49

    REHMBriefly explain the Morton Memos.

  • 10:23:53

    ROSENBERGThe Morton Memos was a decision by DHS sitting -- because the undocumented population now today is bigger than it's ever been -- to make pragmatic decisions about who should go and to prioritize deportation. And it said we're going to prioritize people who are caught entering the country illegally and those with criminal records first.

  • 10:24:10

    ROSENBERGAnd in just a short period of time it's had a dramatic impact on the immigration system where we have made what I think are pragmatic choices. If you're caught entering the U.S., you're getting deported far more than you used to. It's had a deterrent effect. We've seen the net flow of people coming into the country as way down. The flow from Mexico is one-seventh the rate that it was a decade ago. And in the interior of the United States, from a public safety standpoint, much smarter to target murderers and rapists than it is moms who work and support three kids every day.

  • 10:24:41

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:24:41

    ROSENBERGIt's still astonishing to me the Republicans oppose that as basic common sense public policy.

  • 10:24:45

    REHMWhit Ayres, Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times in which he said Obama was overreaching and that liberals critical of President Bush were being hypocritical in supporting President Obama here. Do you agree with him?

  • 10:25:08

    AYRESOf course I agree, but the problem is that this is, if he does it, simply a short term stopgap measure. It is no solution to a broken immigration system. And it makes it harder for him to get through, or for congress to pass what really will be a long-term solution to a broken immigration system.

  • 10:25:29

    REHMWhy does it make it harder?

  • 10:25:32

    AYRESIt makes it harder because it poisons the well. You have all these people who are new to the congress coming in. And before they even have a chance to get sworn in, he pokes a finger in their eye and says, I'm going to do this anyway. I have an alternative plan for it, an audible at the line, to extend the analogy here.

  • 10:25:51

    AYRESWhat if the president would say, listen, I know we have a number of new Republicans who've gotten elected and are going to take office in January. They have all said they want to work with me and get something done. I'm skeptical, he might say, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I will give them until June 30 to pass an immigration bill or a set of immigration bills that deals with all of these immigration problems. That's long enough for them to do it. They've said they want to do it. It's time to put up or shut up. If on July 1 they haven't done it, I will sign this executive order.

  • 10:26:28

    REHMFernand Amandi, how do you see that as a legitimate workable proposal?

  • 10:26:37

    AMANDII think it's a workable proposal but let me get back to the point. The reality, Diane, is why is it harder? Why does Whit Ayres and the Republican Party say it will make it harder? Well, simply because the Republicans will not get any of the credit for having solved in the minds of many voters and taken real action on immigration-related issue.

  • 10:26:56

    AMANDII think you've seen now again, over the past nine years it has been delay tactic after stall tactic. And at the end of the day, there has been no action. And I think fundamentally the fear is if the president acts as he acted with precedent in 2012 on DACA, you saw that there was a great deal of consternation and concern that that might've been something that would've been -- created a political polemic. It did not do so. In fact, it put a charge in the step of the president's base, many of the Hispanic voters, and I think you'll see the same effect now.

  • 10:27:28

    AMANDIBut fundamentally here, let me underscore what I believe, at least based on what the opinion polling suggests, is the concern and what makes it hard. The Republicans will not have any say in this decision and I think that concerns them greatly.

  • 10:27:40

    REHMLaura Meckler, White Ayres and others keep talking about poisoning the well. How do you see it?

  • 10:27:49

    MECKLERWell, I think there's two separate issues here. Poisoning the well on immigration I think is a little bit hard to believe given the fact that many of these same Republicans who just got elected saying that they want to work together, also campaigned against quote unquote "amnesty." There is very little indication that this congress -- incoming congress...

  • 10:28:07

    REHM...would do something.

  • 10:28:07

    MECKLER...would pass any sort of bill that is along the lines of what I know that Whit supports and the other Republicans support. But there's just very little indication.

  • 10:28:16

    MECKLERAnd in fact, President Obama did do what Whit is talking about earlier in the year. He did sort of have this threat of executive action hanging out there and gave -- there was a window for the House to act. And the House did not act. Now granted, things were different. We were in the middle of an election versus a new congress. So theoretically they would have some interest but I just don't think as a practical matter there's likelihood.

  • 10:28:40

    MECKLERAnd I think there's one other important point to make here, which I think Fernand sort of is getting at, which is that Republicans also have a choice to make when Obama does this. I think it's true in the sense that he will really anger people. And they will not want to work with him. And they're going to be furious.

  • 10:28:57

    MECKLERBut then they're going to also have to decide, are they going to sort of take this spite to the limit essentially where they're fighting over this issue of the undocumented population? Is this where they want to sort of lay on their swords? And do they want to jeopardize their own pledges of working together as well? They have to prove they can govern, a lot of Republicans will say. So they have decisions to make too.

  • 10:29:21

    AYRESWell, why not give them a chance? Why not give them -- the new people.

  • 10:29:24

    ROSENBERGBecause we already did, Whit. We already did.

  • 10:29:25

    AYRESNo, you didn't, not with these new people, you didn't. Why not give the new Congress a chance to show that they can act?

  • 10:29:31

    ROSENBERGWhit, every single one of the new senators came out against comprehensive immigration reform. We now have a majority of the Republican Senate is now on record being against comprehensive immigration reform. That was not true this last year. This is going to be -- it is far less likely that anything constructive will happen because of the way that Republicans were elected this cycle.

  • 10:29:50

    ROSENBERGAnd the second thing is, as Laura said, the president already did this. We passed this through the Senate in the summer of 2013. The Republicans had a year-and--a-half to act. The president said, if you don't, I will do it by the end of the year. He's acting on principle and doing the right thing.

  • 10:30:05

    REHMTell me, suppose John Boehner carries through with his threat to sue, to impeach President Obama?

  • 10:30:19

    ROSENBERGWell, I think there will be -- my guess will be, and I think Laura raised this as -- I think said this properly, is I expect there to be very significant sustained Republican action against this bill the way there was the ACA, the health care plan in 2010. I don't think they're going to give up. I mean, the Republicans and the House in 2013 and 2014 voted to override the Morton Memos and to strip the president of the authority that he's using in this additional action that he'll be taking in a few.

  • 10:30:49

    ROSENBERGSo this is an ongoing sustained ideological debate. And I think we should expect -- I think those who believe in this should expect a multiyear sustained action to unravel this, both at the federal and the state level the way we saw with the ACA.

  • 10:31:02

    REHMAnd what about shutting down the government? Are Republicans prepared to do that?

  • 10:31:08

    MECKLERWell, there are some Republicans who would like to use the spending bill as the fight. The leadership of the Republican Party is very much against that. Mitch McConnell, practically the first words out of his mouth after he was elected is that we are not shutting down the government. We are not defaulting on our debts. He doesn't like this kind of brinksmanship, doesn't think it's good for the party.

  • 10:31:26

    MECKLERAnd so I think -- but there -- but it is an unsettled question. I do not think that the -- you raise the specter of impeachment, I do not think that anybody is going to try to impeach the president over this. I don't think they think it would be a good fight to have.

  • 10:31:39

    AYRESAnd the speaker hasn't threatened that.

  • 10:31:40

    MECKLERAnd he hasn't threatened that. No, he hasn't. In fact, I...

  • 10:31:42

    REHMBut what does he mean by suing?

  • 10:31:44

    MECKLERWell, there is an effort to -- there are some people who think he should file a suit just in court against the president trying to overturn this decision. That's well short of impeachment. And I don't actually think that there are a lot of barriers to such a suit anyway. So it's really a lot of question marks around that path, which is there just are not a lot of options to try to stop this given the way the power is divided in Washington.

  • 10:32:09

    REHMFernand, tell me how much public support there is for this issue, not only among Hispanics but how you see it more broadly.

  • 10:32:24

    AMANDIDiane, I think it's an excellent question. I think if you look at all of the public opinion polling on this issue, especially in the period of the last six, seven years, there is broad American political support amongst the different groups for some sort of comprehensive action, and many of which have to do with legalizing the status.

  • 10:32:41

    AMANDINow I think the one element here is the accountability metric. I think if this executive action in some way touches on an accountability element that doesn't just look like a full on amnesty, I think you'll see broad support from the American public at large, and certainly within the different constituency groups as well.

  • 10:32:58

    AMANDIBut let me go back, if I could very quickly, to what the challenge is. You know, the Republicans are dancing on a tightrope here and they're in danger of falling off because again, the political ramifications long term is continuing to be seen as a party that is openly hostile to the fastest growing segment of the American electorate. I think they've already conceded that with African American voters. That's a constituency group that is probably not going to be in their camp anytime soon.

  • 10:33:23

    AYRESThe risk that they run with Republicans and with Hispanic voters is, especially getting into the 2016 cycle where they should again make up at least 10, if not 11, 12 percent of the electorate, is they're going to be seen as the party hostile of that community. I think that's why they're trying to blame Obama and not focus on the action here.

  • 10:33:39

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Steven in Williamsburg, Va. Hi there, you're on the air.

  • 10:33:58

    STEVENGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:33:59


  • 10:34:01

    STEVENI was just wondering, in light of the last election's results and national polling saying that immigration reform is wanted but not amnesty and not the other generalized terms, with the first item being border security, how that's being just dismissed out of hand that that is in fact the public wish?

  • 10:34:25


  • 10:34:26

    MECKLERWell, there is broad support for border security and that's in fact what was talked about in the campaign. If anything, I'm not sure whether there will be any action on immigration reform with or without executive action. But if there is, really I could see a border security bill or some sort of other enforcement bill going through. There haven't been -- I think the support for legalization has actually taken a step backward over the course of the campaign in terms of candidates' positions as well as the public, so I think especially the incoming congress.

  • 10:35:02

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:35:02

    AYRESThe problem of course is that border security doesn't begin to address the entire problem. Forty percent of the illegal immigrants who are here came here legally on visas and overstayed their visas. So if you want to address this problem, it has got to -- border security is a critical part of it but it's only one part of it.

  • 10:35:19

    MECKLERAnd also, you know, the Democrats are going to be very loathed to pass a border security bill if they're not also getting the part of the pie that they would like, which is, you know, the legalization part.

  • 10:35:28


  • 10:35:29

    ROSENBERGAnd Diane, it's important to recognize that this executive action will actually enhance border security because it will allow resources in law enforcement to be focused -- refocused on the border away from the interior of the country. President Obama in 2011 took baby steps towards this regard and we've seen significant advances in border security since he's done that three years ago.

  • 10:35:49

    REHMWhat about the threat of debate over budget conflicts? Are they going to have any effect on the president's decision to move forward or not?

  • 10:36:04

    ROSENBERGYou mean in the next few weeks?

  • 10:36:05


  • 10:36:06

    ROSENBERGWell, I think that the plan, and Laura said this, was to do this after December 11. I think there were leaks from the government and now we're having this conversation earlier than they had anticipated. And it's possible that they're just going to go ahead and get it done in the next few weeks and not delay and wait.

  • 10:36:22

    ROSENBERGI do think, as was said, the Republicans have big decisions to make. Not only, you know, what do they really want to fight on in the next two years. I mean, where I disagree with Whit is that, you know, this idea that we're poisoning the well, I mean, come on. I mean, the Republicans have a whole bunch of issues they really care about. Whatever happens in immigration reform, they're still going to pursue their agenda with incredible ferocity and intensity. That's what we should expect.

  • 10:36:43

    ROSENBERGWe -- our -- what we want out of our system is for our leaders to fight with incredible passion intensity for the things that they believe in. The Republicans aren't going to take a step back from the agenda they campaigned on in 2014 because of this. And so I think we're going to -- I think that they have to make a big decision about their own set of priorities. And my guess is this will fall to the back of the line.

  • 10:37:04

    REHMSimon Rosenberg, president and founder of New Democrat Network. That's a progressive think tank and advocacy organization. Short break here and more of your calls, comments, questions when we come back. I look forward to speaking with you.

  • 10:39:57

    REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the president's apparent preparation to issue an executive order on immigration. Whit Ayres, besides the phrase poisoning the well, what do you see as the downsides for the president if he moves ahead?

  • 10:40:21

    AYRESWell, Diane, I think we have an even larger problem we haven't talked about. I'm afraid we have an imposter in the White House. If you listen to what Barack Obama has said on this issue -- in 2010, he said, "I am not king, I can't do these things just by myself." In 2011, he said, "With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case." He said, "Changing immigration policy on his own is not how our democracy functions. I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true." That's 2011. In 2013, "I am the president of the United States, I'm not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute the laws that are passed."

  • 10:41:06

    AYRESSo it may be that somebody else is inhabiting the White House, after that series of statements declaring that he does not have the authority to do this.

  • 10:41:14

    REHMSimon Rosenberg. How do you see the downsides for the president?

  • 10:41:19

    ROSENBERGWell, I think, like any major public policy change, if the public a few months from now believes this was not in the national interests, that it wasn't benefiting the whole country, then there will be a significant price for the Democrats, I think, regardless of what happens in the Hispanic community. And I think that the area of engagement and the thing that the president and his allies have to focus on is continually saying how this is going to improve the economy, improve public safety, improve border security. And that the president told John Boehner he was going to do this if John Boehner didn't act and he's taking those steps now.

  • 10:41:55

    ROSENBERGAnd I think we can win this debate, but it's going to be a fierce and ferocious one. And if our side doesn't gear up for the battle, you know, we could get beat on the months to come.

  • 10:42:03

    REHMFernand, tell me, in your view, how important this issue is for the 2016 presidential election.

  • 10:42:16

    AMANDII think it's critically important. You look at this issue as a potential hand-off issue to what, you know, by all intents and accounts, looks to be like a potential Hilary Clinton candidacy for the presidency. And again, you look at the democratic coalition, the democratic map, if you will -- how do Democrats win the national election? And at the centerpiece of that is a growing minority vote. You know, we've talked about the Hispanic vote, but let's not forget also the Asian vote is a vote that actually swung very wildly in this last midterm election. They went overwhelmingly for the Democrats in 2012.

  • 10:42:50

    AMANDINow Republicans, according to the exit polls, actually won the Asian vote by a percentage point. So they're also going to be impacted by the ramifications of what executive action means.

  • 10:43:00

    ROSENBERGThere's hope for us, Fernand.

  • 10:43:01

    AMANDISo I think has great resonance. I'm sorry, what was that?

  • 10:43:03

    ROSENBERGI just said there's hope for us, Fernand.

  • 10:43:04

    AMANDIWell, there better be because, you know, the country is increasingly growing less Anglo, more minority in its electorate. And again, it's not a sustainable posture, you know, the Republican plan. What's actually worked successfully was to try and squeeze a little bit more toothpaste out of the tube with Anglo voters in 2014. But there's only so much you can get. I mean I think there's this floor and then there's a ceiling there. So you look at this immigration issue, I think it's fundamentally important. But let's also not forget, for all Americans -- and let me start with the Hispanic community, as far as what the polling shows -- Diane, there are three issues that are most important to Hispanic voters by far.

  • 10:43:40

    AMANDIThe first issue is jobs and the economy. Then the second issue is jobs and the economy, followed by number three, you guessed it, jobs and the economy. These issues together -- jobs and the economy -- overwhelmingly the most important issue. And if you look at it on the basis of the continuum, what have the Democrats done on that issue? Hispanics are doing better now economically than they have at any point in the last ten years. You look at health care, which is the second most important issue. Now, Obamacare, the window having opened yesterday, more uninsured Latinos have signed up than ever before. The Republicans are on the wrong side of that issue from the Hispanic perspective.

  • 10:44:13

    AMANDIAnd if -- on immigration, you know, they want to play monkey in the middle again and be seen as, as I mentioned earlier, the culprits or the villains in blocking this or demagoging against it -- they're already seen as hostile -- I think it'll be very problematic, for your question about the long-term effects in 2016.

  • 10:44:27

    REHMAll right. We have an email from Steve in San Antonio, who says, "You keep referring to Hispanics as a monolithic group. If they -- does that mean they automatically support the president's action? Or is there data to highlight the ways by which this proposed executive action might actually break down within the Latino community? Is there hard data to support the assumptions made by your panel, vis-a-vis support." Fernand.

  • 10:45:11

    AMANDIIt's an excellent question, Diane. You know, I think the real concern here, as far as what might be the blowback within the Hispanic electorate and the Hispanic community at large is just how wide this action goes. You know, if it ensures anything north of three, four million of the undocumented community, I think they'll see it and they'll welcome it. There's some folks that might say, however, it doesn't go far enough. And I think there's a potential flank that might be opened up on the left. We certainly saw this take place in 2006-7, when I think you might argue that the last time there was action it blew up because of maybe some questions about just how precise the path to citizenship was.

  • 10:45:50

    AMANDIBut what I can say, based on the polling, is there is absolute majority support for some sort of action. I think given how the expectations were raised again in the 2008 campaign, where the president promised he was going to address this issue in the first year of his first term, that had to get punted to the re-elect. I think any action at this point will be seen by a majority of the Hispanic electorate as a positive one.

  • 10:46:14

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Ishmael in Elkridge, Md. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:21

    ISHMAELGood morning, Miss Diane.

  • 10:46:23


  • 10:46:24

    ISHMAELHow are you? First of all, if I may, I want to extend my thoughts and regards to the doctor that passed in Nebraska, because I'm Sierra Leone. He died, I wish his family well.

  • 10:46:33


  • 10:46:34

    ISHMAELBut I want -- yeah, what I want to say about immigration, Miss Diane, everybody knows the system is broken and needed to be fixed. I've been living in the United States since 1999. I'm married to my wife for over ten years now. My daughter is 14. My son is 15 and 12. And my youngest son is 9. Never been in jail. I don't even have points on my driver's license. What I want to say to the Republicans, they're not doing it for the president. They are doing it for the country. The president only got (sic) two more years. They tried to defeat him 2012. They couldn't. He won again. But let them fix immigration for the country. They're not doing it for the president. That's what...

  • 10:47:13

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Whit.

  • 10:47:16

    AYRESWell, I completely agree. We've got a terribly broken immigration system that doesn't serve the interests of our economy. It doesn't serve the interests of anyone involved with it. And that's why it's so important to get a long-term permanent solution to this. And that's why I object to the executive action because it makes that more rather than -- more difficult rather than easier.

  • 10:47:37

    REHMBut here's a tweet from Lorraine, who says, "The GOP has never worked with President Obama. Nothing changes with the new Congress."

  • 10:47:50

    AYRESWell, that's an assumption that you can't -- that you have no evidence to support yet. They have a whole bunch of people who said, they want to get some things done. They want to find some areas of agreement. This president hasn't exactly gone out of his way to work with Republicans or for that matter Democrats in the Congress. He hung his own people out to dry in the Senate races by -- when they were trying to distance themselves from him -- saying, oh, these people all voted for me and my policies are all on the ballot. So he doesn't have a lot of affection on the Democratic side of the aisle in Congress much less the Republicans.

  • 10:48:26

    REHMI'd like to see whether one of you can answer this question from Sage in New York City, who says, "What would be the cost to our economy if we could deport all illegal immigrants? What would be the cost to our economy by making them all legal? Simon.

  • 10:48:51

    ROSENBERGSo, the government projections, if we were to have passed the Senate bill, was -- which is the legalization of the 11 million -- was that we would see a drop in the deficit by a trillion dollars over 20 years. And the GDP growth would be about five percent greater than it would have been under normal circumstances. It was a boon for the American economy. What's amazing to me is that John Boehner and the Republicans who were so adamant about cutting the deficit, actually passed on taking the most aggressive deficit-reduction bill that was passed by the Senate, which was comprehensive immigration reform, in 2014 and didn't get it done.

  • 10:49:29

    ROSENBERGIn terms of the costs, I think that there's not only just billions or trillions of dollars to try to round up 11 million people, I think it's morally unacceptable to the American people. I think the moral cost of it for us as a nation, as the leading democracy in the world, the example that it would set is something that's beyond something that American should even consider and has certainly been rejected in poll after poll by the American people.

  • 10:49:52


  • 10:49:53

    MECKLERWell, I don't know the exact number in terms of how much it would cost to actually, in terms of an enforcement budget, which I think is what the emailer was getting at. But -- and this is, you know, frankly, one of the defenses that -- or the main defenses or justifications, I should say, for the executive action would be, is that we haven't been given enough resources to deport everybody. So therefore, we -- it is totally legitimate to pick and choose. I -- there are some people in Congress who would say, I think, support saying, okay, we'll throw as much money as it takes at the problem and deport everyone. But there are a lot of Republicans who are not really interested in deporting lots of people.

  • 10:50:32

    MECKLERI think one of the problems with our public discourse and a lot of public opinion polling on this is that, well, people are given a choice between deport everybody or legalize or make everybody a citizen, where there is another choice, which is just to continue ignoring the problem and letting people live essentially in the shadows. And that's what a lot of people in Congress, frankly, do choose by inaction. And that's probably what a lot of Americans are, at the end of the day, comfortable with.

  • 10:50:57


  • 10:50:58

    AYRESWe've done a lot of focus groups with conservative Republicans. Not even the most conservative Republicans believe we're going to deport 11 million people, a population the size of Ohio. What they don't want is amnesty, where you just go, Oh, okay, fine. They want them to pay a penalty for having broken our laws, to pay taxes, to learn English, to have a job. They want a series of hoops so that they will pay some penalty for having broken our laws. But not even they believe we're going to deport 11 million people.

  • 10:51:28


  • 10:51:29

    AMANDIDiane, your listeners are so smart. That was such a great comment. Because fundamentally that's the next big chapter here. What is the economic impact of action, and frankly non-action, on immigration? That's why I think you see so many elements within the Republican coalition lining up to support this. Now, I'll tell you a secret amongst friends here -- it's just the four of us on the panel we all have a lot of Republican friends. What do they all say? They say, look, quietly, we want this to get done. You know why?

  • 10:51:52

    AMANDISo we can demagogue it, you know, beat the president down, but then fundamentally get on to the issue, because they know this impacts a lot of folks in that Republican coalition. The U.S. Chamber would love to see some sort of action. Why? Our economy cannot function without the work -- the hard work that many of the undocumented do in this country. I think the American public knows that and even the political considerations know that, albeit, some on the right who just, you know, are resistant either way.

  • 10:52:17

    MECKLERI mean, I think the problem is -- for the Republican Party, is that there is a group -- a very loud, vocal minority within the Party that is very strongly against this. There's also a minority that's very strongly in favor of it and a large number of people who just are not -- don't get up in the morning thinking about immigration. And what happened in the House last year is essentially you had the Speaker Boehner, who wanted to get this done by all accounts, wanted to get this done. He is a believer.

  • 10:52:41

    MECKLERThe problem here is not one where Boehner and Obama just couldn't agree. That wasn't the issue. They're pretty much on the same page. The issue was within his conference, he had some very loud, vocal opponents. And at the end of the day he wasn't willing to essentially steamroll them.

  • 10:52:55

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to George. He's in Boston, Mass. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:06

    GEORGEHey, Diane. Thanks for taking my call (word?) .

  • 10:53:08


  • 10:53:10

    GEORGESo my comment is general in nature. If we accept -- if we're willing to accept the definition of evil as greed, oppression and mental illness, the Republic Party is evil.

  • 10:53:25

    AYRESOh, come on.

  • 10:53:26

    REHMOh, I'm not even going to entertain that comment. How insulting that is to a huge group of people in this country. I don't appreciate the comment. Let's go to Daniel in Denton, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:46

    DANIELHi, Diane.

  • 10:53:47


  • 10:53:48

    DANIELPerfect timing. I'm just about to have to go into class.

  • 10:53:50


  • 10:53:52

    DANIELI think that the immigration reform idea is brilliant. There's a couple of hiccups to it. I don't think the president should pass it by executive order because that will give the Republican, you know, the GOP steam in the next election. And I do think that the GOP is -- it's in their best interest to actually negotiate here. Because if they have any chance of actually trying to win, then they need to be seen as team players. But now my opinion on it is, what we should do is create (word?) programs of classes, because to become a citizen you need to pass a citizenship exam.

  • 10:54:36

    DANIELAnd classes that are set up -- which will give employment to instructors, it'll give them a fair shake -- the illegal immigrants -- and then the program of this, they've contributed to the American way, pay taxes, are upstanding citizens, then they get the go-ahead.

  • 10:54:56

    REHMWhit Ayres.

  • 10:54:57

    AYRESThat's very similar to a number of proposals that Republicans have supported. It's similar to proposals that were in the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill. As long as you set up a series of hoops and you don't just wipe the slate clean, a lot of Republicans support that policy.

  • 10:55:17


  • 10:55:18

    AMANDIYou know, one other thing we haven't really touched on, I think what makes this such a fascinating issue, what has everybody kind of with bated breath -- the president has the potential here, to use a modern turn of phrase, to hack his way out of lame duck status. If this action goes down, where he's able to address what he has said is the most important policy piece left in his agenda to accomplish -- you look at what he did this past week on net neutrality, you look at the agreements that were reached in China over climate change.

  • 10:55:49

    AMANDII think this is the type of thing where, if it goes through the and reaction is positive, as many people expect, you all of a sudden have kind of an unprecedented, but interesting, fascinating roadmap for the president to perhaps utilize his executive power -- executive power, which I might add, the Republican Party went to great lengths to expand over the last two presidential terms -- to use and address issues and in essence not be perceived as a lame duck.

  • 10:56:13

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:56:13

    AMANDII think that's what's so fascinating about this issue.

  • 10:56:15

    REHMLast words, Simon.

  • 10:56:16

    ROSENBERGWell, I think Whit's going to be happy with the president's executive action because it's going to have all sorts of hoops that people are going to have to jump through. People without criminal records -- I mean, people with criminal records are not going to get through. You're going to have to have long -- these are long-settled families with deep family ties in the United States. They're going to have to pay a fine. It's going to be a series of significant hurdles so that people are accountable and they're becoming accountable and getting right with the law. And that's what we're going to see in a few weeks.

  • 10:56:43

    REHMDo you think it's going to be before or after December 11?

  • 10:56:49

    ROSENBERGI'm not smart enough to know that, Diane.

  • 10:56:50

    REHMSimon Rosenberg, Laura Meckler, Whit Ayres, Fernand Amandi, thank you all so much. I'll be waiting with bated breath.

  • 10:57:01

    ROSENBERGOur pleasure.

  • 10:57:02

    MECKLERThank you.

  • 10:57:02

    AMANDIThank you.

  • 10:57:02

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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