TIME Immigration

President Obama Distorts “Amnesty” to Sell His Executive Actions

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nevada
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about immigration reform during a visit to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

When Presidents abuse words, the nation should notice

President Obama has rolled out his executive action on immigration with a talking point that guts the meaning of a word for political ends. As a general rule, democracies should take notice when their leaders do this.

“I know critics call this ‘amnesty,’” he said today in a speech in Nevada, describing his decision to give temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. “It’s not amnesty. Amnesty is what we have now.”

The Merriam Webster dictionary, an American English standard, gives us this definition of “amnesty”: “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” The Oxford dictionary gives two definitions: “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses” and “an undertaking by the authorities to take no action against specified offenses or offenders during a fixed period.” The word “pardon” in both cases is defined to mean a forgiveness for an offense.

As a word in politics, “amnesty” has been as contested as any in recent years. What is not contested is the fact that those immigrants who reside in the United States without documentation have broken the law, even if that law is not widely enforced. In Arizona v. United States, the recent Supreme Court case that overturned a harsh state immigration law, Justice Anthony Kennedy summed up current federal law like this: “Unlawful entry and unlawful reentry into the country are federal offenses. Once here, aliens are required to register with the Federal Government and to carry proof of status on their person. Failure to do so is a federal misdemeanor.” The punishment can include a small fine, possible imprisonment and, “upon the order of the Attorney General,” removal from the country.

Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform label any effort “amnesty” if it treats undocumented immigrants with any official leniency short of prompt punishment under current law and deportation. For the pro-immigration reform camp, a reform proposal is only “amnesty” if it fails to include some penalty, even a different one than those prescribed, for having initially broken the law. This camp argues that the Senate-passed immigration reform proposal, for instance, was not “amnesty,” since it required immigrants to pay a fine before establishing a legal path for them to stay in the country.

President Obama is doing something more convoluted and alarming with the word “amnesty” than both of these camps. His action grants temporary and revokable work permits and legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, if they pay back taxes and pass a background check. There is no fine. He is taking these actions under current law, using the discretion given to the Attorney General over enforcement. He argues that this is not “amnesty,” even though he is granting clear temporary forgiveness, since there is no official pardon, just a mass delay of enforcement.

But Obama goes further. “Amnesty is what we have now,” he says of the current system, in which millions live in violation of a law that is generally not enforced. The suggestion here is that the current lack of enforcement is itself a sort of unofficial pardon. So he is arguing at the same time that granting a new pardon is not amnesty and that allowing an existing pardon to continue is amnesty. He can’t have it both ways.

These two conflicting thoughts become harder to manage when the pardons are compared to each other. The White House says that the core rationale for the President’s actions is “humanitarian,” since the new rules will make it easier for families with undocumented parents and documented children to stay with each other. Implicit in this is the conceit that the new pardon (a temporary work permit and legal status) is less severe than the old pardon (a lack of enforcement).

Those undocumented immigrants who do not receive the President’s dispensation will be undeniably worse off: they will continue to live under the threat of deportation, they will be restricted in their ability to travel outside the United States, and they will continue to lack the ability, in most cases, to find legal employment. President Obama is not arguing otherwise. The premise of his action is that he is making the lives of 5 million better and more fair.

In the end, Obama has made a mush of meaning. Why does this matter? Because words matter. They mean specific things. And that meaning must be defended, because words facilitate the basic premise of open and honest debate that undergirds a democratic system. As George Orwell wrote, in the definitive essay on this topic, “[I]f thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” War is not peace. The sun is not blue. Six is not less than five.

There are lots of ways Obama could have chosen to make his case that his executive actions provide the nation an improvement over the status quo. Corrupting the meaning of a word, however, is not a noble one, nor is confusing the debate. It is, to use another word with a clear meaning, deceptive.

TIME

House Intel Panel Debunks Many Benghazi Theories

A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames
A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames, Sept. 11, 2012. Esam Al-Fetori—Reuters

(WASHINGTON) — A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

The attacks in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. A Libyan extremist, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, is facing trial on murder charges after he was captured in Libya and taken to the U.S.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

“We spent thousands of hours asking questions, poring over documents, reviewing intelligence assessments, reading cables and emails, and held a total of 20 committee events and hearings,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the committee’s chairman, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat, in a joint statement.

“We conducted detailed interviews with senior intelligence officials from Benghazi and Tripoli as well as eight security personnel on the ground in Benghazi that night. Based on the testimony and the documents we reviewed, we concluded that all the CIA officers in Benghazi were heroes. Their actions saved lives,” they said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the intelligence panel and the Benghazi select committee, said, “It’s my hope that this report will put to rest many of the questions that have been asked and answered yet again, and that the Benghazi Select Committee will accept these findings and instead focus its attention on the State Department’s progress in securing our facilities around the world and standing up our fast response capabilities.”

Some of the harshest charges have been leveled at Rice, now Obama’s national security adviser, who represented the Obama administration on Sunday talk shows the weekend after the attack. Rice repeated talking points that wrongly described a protest over a video deemed offensive to Muslims.

But Rice’s comments were based on faulty intelligence from multiple agencies, according to the report. Analysts received 21 reports that a protest occurred in Benghazi, the report said —14 from the Open Source Center, which reviews news reports; one from the CIA; two from the Defense Department; and four from the National Security Agency.

In the years since, some participants in the attack have said they were motivated by the video. The attackers were a mix of extremists and hangers on, the investigation found.

“To this day,” the report said, “significant intelligence gaps regarding the identities, affiliations and motivations of the attackers remain.”

TIME Immigration

Obama Touts Immigration Actions in Las Vegas

Raucuous crowd in Las Vegas cheers "Si, se puede"

President Barack Obama took his immigration actions on the road Friday, trumpeting in a speech in Las Vegas his announcement that his administration would defer deportations for roughly five million illegal immigrants.

Addressing a raucous audience at a local high school a day after laying out his announcement in a primetime address to the nation, Obama rejected the complaints of congressional Republicans that his actions were unlawful or an overreach, saying he had given Congress plenty of time to take action and “we can’t afford” to wait any longer.

“I told [Speaker of the House] John Boehner I would—yeah, I’ll wash your car, I’ll walk your dog—whatever you need to do, just call the bill,” Obama said, complaining that House Republicans refused to take up the Senate-passed bipartisan immigration reform bill. “That’s how democracy is supposed to work. And if the votes hadn’t been there, then we would have had to start over, but at least give it a shot. And he didn’t do it. And the fact that a year-and-a-half has gone by means that time has been wasted—and during that time families have been separated, and during that time businesses have been harmed.”

Obama said lawmakers who question his authority to act have a simple recourse: passing a comprehensive immigration bill for his signature. “When members of Congress question my authority to make our immigration system work better, I have a simple answer: pass a bill,” Obama said as the audience cheered and chanted “Si, se puede.” “Pass a bill. Pass a bill. Nobody is stopping them from passing a bill.”

Before deplaning Air Force One, Obama signed two memoranda to develop policies to better help integrate immigrants into the United States and improve the immigration visa system. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security released memoranda on efforts to improve border security, end the controversial “Secure Communities” program and employ prosecutorial discretion to allowing many illegal immigrants to remain in the United States. “Under this revised policy, those who entered illegally prior to January 1, 2014, who never disobeyed a prior order of removal, and were never convicted of a serious offense, will not be priorities for removal,” the department said of a policy that will take effect on Jan. 5, 2015. DHS also announced that it would begin accepting applications within the next 180 day for the expanded deferred action program, which would allow millions of immigrants to remain in the U.S. legally for three years on a renewable basis.

Obama said he understood the worries of those concerned about the impact of immigration on their jobs and the “fabric of our country,” but said he also heard the concerns of the so-called Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and of the American citizens with family members who immigrated illegally to be near them.

“We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American dream,” Obama said. “We’re a nation that finds a way to welcome them. We make them earn it, but we welcome them in as fellow human beings, fellow children of God, and we harness their talents to make the future brighter for everybody.”

The executive actions put pressure on Republicans who have strenuously objected to Obama’s process, while the substance of his announcements places the GOP in a bind with an ever-more-diverse presidential electorate.

TIME Immigration

Obama’s Actions Won’t Increase Illegal Immigration, Expert Says

Barack Obama Immigration
President Barack Obama signs two presidential memoranda associated with his actions on immigration in his office, on Air Force One as he arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nov. 21, 2014. Carolyn Kaster—AP

House Speaker John Boehner is arguing that President Obama’s moves to defer deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants will make illegal immigration worse, citing President Obama’s own past words to make the argument.

But a top immigration expert disagreed, arguing that the causes of illegal immigration are more complex.

Obama announced Thursday that he would allow millions of undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident children who have been living in the country for at least five years to avoid deportation for three years if they pay back taxes and pass a criminal background check.

Boehner said that will only encourage more people to try to cross the border. His office pointed to a 2010 Obama statement in which the President said that providing undocumented workers legal status “could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration.”

“The action by the President yesterday will only encourage more people to come here illegally and put their lives at risk,” said Boehner. “We saw the humanitarian crisis on our border last summer—how horrific it was. Well next summer, it could be worse.”

Boehner was referring to a surge in unaccompanied minors from October 2013 through September, when over 68,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the southwest border, a 77% increase over the previous year. (The number of children coming over has sharply declined in the past few months.)

But Doris Meissner, the director of the Migration Policy Institute’s immigration policy work, said that Boehner’s criticism was off. Here’s what she told TIME:

It goes to the more general idea of whether a legal status program functions as a magnet to future illegal immigration and that’s always something that’s been out there and has been a concern, but the reality today is that we have invested so much in southwest border enforcement…and the President has underscored that again that he is going to allocate even more additional resources to border enforcement. The evidence that we have is that our illegal immigration across the southwest border is at it’s lowest level since the early 1970s when the current wave of illegal immigration largely from Mexico began, we have net minus immigration from Mexico.

The child migrant spurt that happened over the last year was much more a function of conditions in those three countries—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—and notion of ‘permisos’ in the United States. But that’s now really receded dramatically. So if you take the spurt of Central American crossings out of the numbers for last year, you find the lowest levels of illegal immigration apprehensions across the southwest border in decades. Now that’s not to say that you can discount Central American migration but…it’s a function of different circumstances then the illegal immigration that has led to what the President is saying now.

This action that he has taken now is retrospective. You have to have been in the country for five years to qualify for it. It’s for people as of the date of announcement; there’s no eligibility for people that might be coming forward in the future. I do think that the underpinnings today are quite different and it’s pretty hard to make the case that this particular action would spur a future migration.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary’s 2016 Campaign is Ready, Hypothetically Speaking

Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to a crowd during a campaign stop to promote Democrats in re-election bids in the east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2014. David Zalubowski—AP

Would-be surrogates tried to make the case for Hillary without admitting she's running

Hillary Clinton is almost definitely, but not certainly, going to run for president and if she does, she’ll most likely be the strongest candidate, but she could totally still lose, so Democrats shouldn’t get cocky.

That was the awkward message from would-be Clinton surrogates who were among the several hundred politicos, fundraisers and activists who showed up for a “Ready For Hillary” convention in New York Friday.

At some moments, they seemed to fall over themselves insisting that the former Secretary of State’s ascendancy should not be considered “inevitable,” while at other moments they discussed in great detail the organizational structure, fundraising and messaging efforts that are already in place to buttress her 2016 campaign.

Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said that ambivalence as a result of the pummeling Clinton’s campaign received six years ago, when many Democrats considered her a shoo-in as the Democratic nominee.

“In 2008, we got eviscerated by a better campaign on the ground,” he explained. “Lessons have been learned. So there has been extraordinary preparation and it’s a very, very different, far more sophisticated operation that’s there and it’s ready for her, should she decide to run.”

Adam Parkhomenko, who founded the organizational group Ready for Hillary, which has spent the last two years collecting a database of roughly 3 million supporters, echoed the sentiment.

“I wouldn’t have been doing this since January 2013 if I thought she was inevitable,” he said. “We learned in 2008 she’s not inevitable. No one’s inevitable.”

Stephanie Schriock, the head of EMILY’s List, who is expected to play a major role in a future Clinton campaign, said she looks forward to a “healthy primary.”

“As everyone goes through a presidential primary process, it’ll be the candidate who make the case,” she said, adding that Clinton, while clearly the front-runner, will not be immune to that process. “There’s nothing inevitable about 2016.”

Meanwhile, several Clinton backers, including Schriock, former Obama campaign organizer Mitch Stewart, Correct the Record’s David Brock, and political strategist Chris Lehane, spoke directly about what organizations would have to work together on the ground to make a 2016 Clinton campaign most effective, what issues Clinton would be most likely to emphasize, and what message the campaign would be built around. All agreed that a hypothetical Clinton campaign will likely to focus on working class voters, who are feeling increasingly marginalized in today’s economy.

Clinton must project a vision for “economic opportunity for American families,” said Schriock. That’s a phrase she used, with slight variations, twice more during a half-hour talk with reporters. The campaign will likely focus on connecting with working class voters, women, Hispanics and the African American community over issues like equal pay, minimum wage and leveling the playing field for the middle class, she said.

Nina Turner, an Ohio state senator, said that a Clinton campaign could easily motivate key voting blocs, like the African American community, by staking progressive positions on issues like prison reform or creating more economic opportunities for the working poor. But, she said, “This is not about a coronation for anybody.”

Stewart agreed that “a hypothetical Clinton campaign” would have to focus primarily economic issues. “We have to come up with an economic message that shows working class voters that we’re on their side,” said Stewart.

When asked what issues would put Clinton in the strongest position against other potential Democratic contenders, such Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, or Jim Webb, who announced yesterday that he was exploring the possibility of running, Stewart demurred. “I’m not going to comment on any hypothetical candidate,” said Stewart, laughing. “Except my specific hypothetical candidate.”

TIME Government

Americans Actually Love the Post Office

United States Postal Service clerks sort mail at the USPS Lincoln Park carriers annex in Chicago
USPS mail clerks sort packages in Chicago, November 29, 2012. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans think the post office is doing a good or excellent job despite its financial difficulties. John Gress—Reuters

Poll finds that the beleaguered USPS is the nation's most-liked government agency

Complaining about the post office is an American pastime, like griping about Congress, or whining about the DMV. Who, in their right mind, actually likes dealing with the post office?

A lot of people, it turns out. According to a new Gallup survey, 72% of Americans say the U.S. Postal Service is doing an excellent or good job. That puts the USPS ahead of 12 other government agencies, including the FBI, the CDC, NASA and the CIA. And the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to think highly of our much-maligned courier: 81% of 18-to-29-year-olds rated the post office’s job as excellent or good, while 65% of those over 65 said the same thing.

So what accounts for the post office’s surprising popularity? Age, for one.

(MORE: The Postmaster General Hangs Up His Mail Bag, With a Parting Shot at Congress)

As the volume of letters has declined, the USPS has evolved to become as much a courier of packages as it is a way to send and receive first-class mail. In the last few years, the post office has not only expanded its delivery of parcels (it recently began a partnership with Amazon to deliver on Sundays), but it also often delivers packages for FedEx and UPS in what’s called “last mile” delivery, which are shipments to residents that private carriers don’t service. That means millennials interact less with the USPS at its worst — the interminable lines at understaffed post offices — and more from the comfort of home, where the mailman is the person at the door with their new shoes from Amazon or their iPhone from the Apple store.

The post office is also the one agency that Americans actually see doing its job each day. You see postal employees on their routes. You can see post offices open. When’s the last time you saw an FDA worker inspecting your local restaurant or the Federal Reserve Board in action as it plotted the end of quantitative easing?

Not that the latest survey should make the post office rejoice. The faltering institution has run deficits every year since 2007 and its aggressive efforts to adapt to the digital age have not yet been enough to offset the substantial drop in mail volume and onerous Congressional mandates to fund retirees. But it never hurts to have the public on your side.

TIME

#AskTIME Subscriber Q and A: Michael Scherer

Welcome to TIME Subscriber Q&A, with TIME’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer. He has a story in this week’s TIME about America’s New Anchor, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision. His other stories can be found here.

To read the full post, you need to be a subscriber. It’s not too late to sign up.

sacredh asks, Do you think that Jim Webb throwing his hat into the ring could signal interest in the VP job if Hillary gets the nomination?

From my time with Webb, he doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who is all that comfortable toeing someone else’s line, and I would guess the Clinton camp would be worried, with good reason, that he might not follow marching instructions. There is another reason I would guess this is unlikely, at least at this point. If you read his announcement letter, he is pretty clearly positioning himself, like Obama did in 2007, as someone who can turn the page on the Clinton v. GOP wars of the past. On the issues, he is likely to campaign to her right.

Outsider asks, Thanks for bringing the feature back this week, Mike.

In your piece about the end of the post-partisan dream, you wrote:

Now we come to the final hours of this miserable season. It’s likely, though not certain, that when you wake up Wednesday, Republicans will control the Senate for the first time since 2006, give or take a recount in the West or a runoff in the South. But don’t expect that result to tell you much about the direction of the country.

Other than TV ads, how can anyone get the voting population to actually get at the polls? This election had the lowest turn out in a very long time. And how do you think the media played into the lack of enthusiasm for voting?

Since most people get their information via reporting, how do you think, or do you think, the media could help raise the level of concern regarding voter participation?

I tend to be a glass half full guy when it comes to Democracies: Large groups of people, even if sometimes ill informed, tend to be completely rational. How do you get people to the polls? You give them an incentive. Either a candidate they can believe in, or the prospect of political or economic change that they desire. As a rule, candidates in 2014 offered neither. It was a grim time, highlighted by the fact that gridlock in Washington has reduced everyone’s power to actually accomplish much of anything, and the voting public, a rational body, sort of gets that. Also people are upset, about the economic stagnation of their own lives and the childlike spectacle of their elected leadership. It will change when the conditions change, and a Presidential election, which inevitably ask bigger questions and bring bigger characters to the stage, will help that along, though I would not be surprised if 2016 turnout is far lower than 2012 and 2008.

What is the media’s role? To say what is happening, and explain what it means. I think people are interested in both, but I don’t think they will look to my opinion to decide whether voting is worth their time. For the record, I think everyone should vote, with the possible exception of those living in false democracies, where not voting can send a stronger signal than voting.

outsider asks, Hey Michael, in your piece about the end of Post-Partisan dream, you wrote:

Message control, in other words, has replaced governing.

This is absolutely true: Why do you think that more politicians aren’t called on doing that very thing when they are questioned by members of the media?

I think they are called on it, but they just keep repeating the soundbites. At some point, especially at the end of expensive campaigns, the voice of the journalist tends to diminish. We can say so-and-so did not answer the question, or does not actually have a plan to govern. But that is just an article or news report in a sea of endless television spots and direct mail pieces peddling balderdash.

deconstructive asks, Michael, how do you explain the disconnect over Obamacare between its unpopularity (in polls, media coverage, etc.) and its success (in numbers of people covered, etc.)?

Yes, I think this is quite simple. About 20 million have gained coverage under Obamacare, but this country has 316 million people. It’s a tiny fraction. For the people who have got coverage, or the millions more who have a chronic condition that is now covered or get coverage they could not get before, Obamacare is seen for the most part as a good thing. But most of us still get our insurance through our employers, and it is still more than we want to pay, and increasing in cost (though slower), and insurance companies are still difficult, and our wages are flat. Liberals support Obamacare because they are ideologically predisposed to think it is a good think. Conservatives opposes because they assume it is bad. And most in the middle don’t really understand what it does, or how it has done for them. Some are convinced it has harmed them. Thus, you get a sort of general discontent.

deconstructive asks, Michael, after our midterm election, how you explain the disconnect between populist issues winning in red states – especially the minimum wage – and GOP politicians winning in those states who consistently fight those same issues? Low voter turnout, especially among D’s and minorities, explains a lot, but maybe not this – are populist issues popular with conservative working class voters too?

Progressives have identified a few issues that are popular with lots of voters, but for which Republican politicians oppose. Minimum wage and pot decriminalization are two, which did well this cycle. But neither issue is a top issue for many voters, meaning it is not the issue that voters decide on when they choose their elected leaders. Those choices are made for other reasons, including their general satisfaction with the direction of their lives, the state and the country. This cycle had a huge anti-incumbent undercurrent because of those issues. Also, there a group of Republican and independent voters who vote in low-turnout elections for Republicans, even if they don’t mind pot and want higher minimum wages.

yogi asks, MS, does the pentagon release statistics on the sorties that are being flown in Syria and Iraq? What is the percentage break down of sorties flown by the US compared to the other allied nations supposedly fighting ISIS? (Perhaps this would be a good post by MT if the data is available).

Mark Thompson replies, “The U.S. is flying 85% of the air strikes since Aug. 8, according to the latest Pentagon data. The U.S. has flown 843 of them—459 against targets in Iraq and 380 against targets in Syria. Sixteen allies have flown 163 air strikes, including 102 in Iraq and 61 in Syria. U.S. officials also say U.S. planes are conducting most of the intelligence, escort and refueling missions.”

yogi asks, #AskTIME, MS, do members of both branches of Congress really believe their kabuki vote on Keystone XL meant anything to the citizens they serve? Why waste time on a vote, that Obama has said he would veto and there is so little time until they have another recess? Especially when Congress has more important issues like a budget and actual debate and vote on whether to wage war against ISIS.

Republicans use Keystone as a cudgel, looking to paint Democrats as ideologues who don’t care about jobs and the middle class. Environmentalists see Keystone as both a substantive issue, given the emissions that might be prevented by delay of Canadian oil development, and as a symbolic stand that could shift the conversation about fossil fuel development. As an electoral issue, the evidence suggests that it has been a winner for Republicans, similar to the way equal pay has been a winner for Democrats. It arguably helped the GOP in a number of races in 2014, when Democratic candidates had to distance themselves from the party. That’s why you are almost certainly going to see more votes. When Republicans talk about Keystone they are usually winning, which is not always true on issues that deal with global warming.

Sue_N asks, Seriously, how far can we expect to see the rampant obstructionism of the GOP go? How long can this government tolerate being shackled and kept from functioning? And, hey, while I’ve got your ear (eye, whatever), can we expect to see this oh-hell-no continue beyond Obama’s presidency? Yes, a lot of it seems personal, but the ugly genie of the Party of No has been let out of the bottle. When another Democrat is elected to the White House in 2016, are the shackles going to stay on?

There was a moment in 2005, when President George W. Bush decided to push hard on Social Security reform. His bet was that he could get some form of personal investment accounts by Democrats in the Senate by offering to bargain on other issues, like the long term solvency of the program. Instead the Democrats countered with: You get nothing. It was probably the right political move for Democrats, who cleaned up in the 2006 elections. Republicans did something similar after Obama came into office, and most Democratic strategists will tell you that it was probably a good short term political strategy. They now control both chambers. That said, there is now far more pressure on Republicans to actually come up with a credible positive agenda, which has not been much in evidence over the last few years, in part because the party is so fractious.

Your question could be, how long will rampant political polarization that punishes compromise and rewards obstruction continue? I would argue that this is more important. I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you some factors that would alleviate the pressures: less partisan redistricting after 2020 that allows for more competitive seats, population changes that make more Senate seats competitive, an improvement in the labor market that begin increasing wages broadly across the country, the emergence of a candidate or set of candidates that convinces a large share of the American people that there is a third way, or a shift in the national mood away from finding comfort in ideological extremes.

Sorry for the delay in getting these up today. There will be no Subscriber Q&A again next week, but we’ll be back in the first week of December. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving. And keep commenting.

 

TIME Congress

House Sues Obama Over Health Care Law

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, 2014 Jim Bourg—AP

"The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution"

House Republicans sued the Obama Administration on Friday over how it has implemented the health care reform law, taking legal action after threatening to do so for months.

The House sued the cabinet secretaries for the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury, and filed the case in the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C., House Speaker John Boehner’s office said. At issue are administrative tweaks the Administration has made during the course of implementing the law.

“Time after time, the President has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”

The lawsuit went unfiled for months after House Republicans first floated it. Legal experts have been skeptical of its chances of success.

Boehner said in July that the House would sue President Barack Obama for twice delaying the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that businesses with more than 50 full-time employes provide insurance or pay a fee—a provision Republicans oppose anyway. The suit also alleges that the law does not allow the executive branch to transfer funds to insurance companies to reduce out-of-pocket payments for low-income enrollees, as Congress has not appropriated the money for that purpose. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that those cost-sharing subsidies for low-income Americas—those at two-and-a-half times the poverty level, or $11,670 to $29,175 a year for an individual—will cost $175 billion over the next ten years.

Republicans had trouble finding a lawyer to pursue the case, but Boehner found his man this week in George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley, who had testified in favor of such a lawsuit this summer. House Republican aides have suggested the lawsuit could be expanded to include the Obama’s executive actions taken this week to grant temporary legal status to millions of immigrants in the country illegally, but Turley has said in the past that expanding the lawsuit would weaken it.

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed the lawsuit as a political stunt.

“After scouring Washington for months, Republicans have finally found a TV lawyer to file their meritless lawsuit,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement Friday. “While the American people want Congress to get serious about creating good-paying jobs and strengthening the middle class, House Republicans are paying $500-an-hour in taxpayer money to sue the President of the United States. The fact is, this lawsuit is a bald-faced attempt to achieve what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the political process.”

TIME Immigration

Obama Will Pressure GOP to ‘Finish the Job’ on Immigration

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Jim Bourg—AP

President feels 'liberated' now that midterms are over

President Barack Obama will use his executive action on immigration to pressure Republicans to “finish the job” by passing a reform bill, White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer said Friday.

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, Pfeiffer was asked if Obama would tout his action in swing states to put pressure on Republicans.

Pfeiffer didn’t answer directly, but he did say the administration “will be making the case about what we did and the need for Congress to finish the job.”

He added that this would be an “incredibly important priority” in 2015.

The remarks came two weeks after Democrats were routed in the midterms, losing control of the Senate. But Pfeiffer said that in contrast to an election season where Obama needed to protect Democratic candidates and “wasn’t able to be out there and make an argument,” he will now be freer to flaunt his plan, which grants temporary legal status and work permits to almost five million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Though advisers have suggested that Obama feels “liberated” now that midterms are over, Pfeiffer says he’s already looking ahead and planning for to 2016. “A very important thing for him will be to be succeeded by a Democrat,” Pfeiffer said.

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