WASHINGTON — When President Obama said he was looking for ways to ease deportations without going through Congress, Republicans called it overreach, saying it’s Obama — not Republicans — undermining prospects for an immigration overhaul by proving he can’t be trusted to enforce the law.
As a narrow window opens in which Congress could act on immigration, Obama is working to turn the tables on Republicans. He’s delaying any executive actions on deportation in hopes that Republicans will bear all the blame if that window closes with the nation’s immigration system no closer to being fixed.
It’s an election-year gambit with the potential to backfire: By again asking for patience from frustrated immigration activists, Obama is driving up expectations about actions he’ll take if the fight in Congress ultimately fails.
“It’s an audacious strategy,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. “But it has some downsides to it, too.”
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Two months after Obama commissioned a review of how deportations in America can be more humane, the Obama administration said Tuesday that Obama had asked his homeland-security secretary, Jeh Johnson, to hold off on releasing the results of that review until August.
That’s when lawmakers leave Washington to focus on campaigning ahead of the November elections.
Administration officials said the delay is intended to give the GOP as much breathing room as possible to maneuver now that most GOP primaries are over, freeing incumbent Republicans from concerns about challenges from conservatives who oppose an immigration overhaul.
Yet Obama’s allies also hope that by holding off on controversial steps to ease deportations, Democrats can keep the focus on the failure of Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring immigration to a vote.
“Giving the Republicans space takes away their final excuse,” said Jim Wallis, president of Christian social-justice group Sojourners. “It’s all now focused on John Boehner.”
Republicans dismissed the notion that Obama’s move makes it easier for Republicans to act on immigration, noting that Obama has only delayed — not removed — the threat that he’ll go over lawmakers’ heads if they don’t act by August.
“It’s completely inappropriate for the president to threaten Congress that he will unconstitutionally act on his own if Congress doesn’t produce a bill to his political liking within his own made-up time frame,” said House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
If lawmakers stall, Obama will be short on excuses not to take the aggressive executive action on deportations that activists long have demanded.
Most Americans — 55 percent — favor providing a legal way for those in the U.S. illegally to become citizens, according to a May AP-GfK poll, including 73 percent of Democrats.