Obama's Immigration Warning

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on January 2, 2011

What a difference a lame duck makes. At his press conference after the midterm elections, the president appeared subdued, acknowledged a "shellacking," and promised a renewed search for common ground.

Then, at his post-lame duck news conference, the president, according to one wag, went "from shellacking to swashbuckling." More importantly, the president clearly had recovered both his usual high level of self-confidence and his transformational ambitions.

Nowhere in his press conference was this more evident than when the question of immigration was raised (emphasis added):

Q Mr. President, you've been able to fulfill many of your promises. Immigration reform isn't one of them. Just this last weekend, the DREAM Act failed cloture by five votes, and five Democrats didn't support it; three Republicans did. How are you going to be able to keep your promise when the Republicans control the House when you haven't been able to do so with Democrats controlling both the Senate and the House, and when Republicans say they want to focus on border security before they do anything on immigration?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say, there are a number of things that I wanted to get accomplished that we did not get accomplished… So my hope and expectation is that, first of all, everybody understands I am determined and this administration is determined to get immigration reform done. It is the right thing to do. I think it involves securing our borders, and my administration has done more on border security than any administration in recent years. We have more of everything – ICE, Border Patrol, surveillance, you name it. So we take border security seriously. And we take going after employers who are exploiting and using undocumented workers, we take that seriously. But we need to reform this immigration system so we are a nation of laws and we are a nation of immigrants. And at minimum, we should be able to get the DREAM Act done. And so I'm going to go back at it and I'm going to engage in Republicans who, I think, some of them, in their heart of hearts, know it's the right thing to do, but they think the politics is tough for them. Well, that may mean that we've got to change the politics. And I've got to spend some time talking to the American people, and others have to spend time talking to the American people, because I think that if the American people knew any of these kids – they probably do, they just may not know their status – they'd say, of course we want you. That's who we are. That's the better angels of our nature. And so one thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck – I am persistent. I am persistent. If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it. And I believe strongly in this. And I am happy to engage with the Republicans about – if they've got ideas about more on border security, I'm happy to have that conversation. And I think that it is absolutely appropriate for the American people to expect that we don't have porous borders and anybody can come in here any time. That is entirely legitimate...

The president is a grand master at conveying the impression that he understands and even finds areas of agreement with his opponent's point of view. His policy behavior is often quite different.

And the president's view of himself as determined is absolutely right. He is determined to be a "great" president, as his choice of pushing health care legislation at the expense of focusing on economic issues reflected. Stymied in his efforts to gain a historic cap-and-trade energy policy, immigration presents the next most enticing opportunity for "greatness" legislation.

This president is not one to pass up any opportunity to match his legislative successes, regardless of their policy value, to his image of himself as an historical and transformational figure.

It would be unwise to underestimate either his still white-hot ambition or his cunning.