President Obama travels to Las Vegas on Tuesday to make his own push for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, a day after a group of eight senators unveiled their own bipartisan plan. Obama has made immigration reform one of the top priorities of his second term, mentioning it in his inaugural address, and planning to hammer it home in Las Vegas and his State of the Union address. "But a funny thing happened on the way to the border crossing," says Matthew Cooper at National Journal. A bipartisan group of senators has "taken up immigration reform in earnest with all the good-government diligence of a Brookings report and a Washington Post editorial." Republicans are deeply divided on the issue, and a group of Democrats from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has reportedly asked Obama to stay out of the debate and sit on an immigration bill the White House has been drafting on its own. As this immigration fight unravels, Cooper says, "one of the things to look for is whether Obama has the good sense to lead from behind and not claim this plan as his own crusade." If Obama does jump in too deep:
That is the surest way to piss off Congress, especially congressional Republicans, just as it is children and bosses. Letting them come up with the plan and showing a willingness to sign off on it would probably be the best bet. If it's seen as Obama's plan, they'll reflexively oppose it. If it's [Sen.] Marco Rubio's [R-Fla.] plan, even if it bears little difference from Obama's, Republicans — who want Hispanics' love even more than a tax cut — will embrace it. In 1986, Ronald Reagan goosed tax reform along without making it his own, and that's probably the best bet for Obama this time. [National Journal]
Indeed, the prospects for immigration reform "are surprisingly good" — unless Obama opts to sabotage the emerging legislation, says Michael Gerson at The Washington Post. "If he chooses — if he prefers a wedge issue to a legislative accomplishment — he could easily polarize this most polarizing of issues." It wouldn't take much to spook Republicans — say, insisting that legalizing immigrants take precedent over border security.
Which may be the point. So far, White House contact with Rubio and his staff has been minimal and perfunctory. Why elevate a possible Republican presidential candidate, with a powerful immigrant story, who can explain his views on Univision without a translator? Wouldn't it be easier for Obama, once again, to push past the red lines of his opponents and then declare their opposition to be evidence of irrationality? [Washington Post]
That doesn't make any sense, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. Obama "has a chance to set millions of illegals on the path to citizenship, which, judging by current electoral trends, will mean millions of more Democratic votes on balance at some point in the not-distant future," so why would he prefer trying to undermine Rubio and "demagoging the GOP for a few more years?" Obama is surely aware of the risks of his involvement, so "I doubt he'll float his own bill."
It's easy to see why "some might view Obama's insertion into the debate as a 'poison pill,'" says Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller, but "my guess is it will benefit Rubio by allowing him to attack Obama — and simultaneously push the Senate's more prudent framework" over the president's more liberal plan. In fact, Obama's speech in Las Vegas "couldn't come at a better time." Rubio is on Rush Limbaugh's show on Tuesday to talk about his plan, and now he can "spend most of his time talking about the differences between Obama's amnesty plan and Rubio's alternate plan."
In the end, though, all this hand-wringing may be for naught. "The White House has shelved, for now, plans to introduce its own immigration bill," says Mark Landler at The New York Times. Obama's game plan will be "less to underline differences with the bipartisan plan than to marshal public support behind immigration reform." The president is well aware that he "finds himself in rare alignment with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on a major issue," and his Las Vegas speech promises to be "a novelty in his polarized presidency: A pat on the back to Congress and a pledge to work toward a shared goal."
That's easier said than done, says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. Presidential involvement of any type automatically polarizes a debate, and the best way for Obama to handle the issue is probably "to be as vague about the new bipartisan Senate proposal as he can, at least in public," while working behind the scenes to fight for what he wants in the bill. But "the dance is probably more complicated than that, because it's not just presidents who polarize, after all."
A full-throated embrace of the bipartisan deal by the "usual suspect" liberal groups could easy scare off Republican support; on the other hand, if they oppose the deal, it could make it hard for mainstream liberals to support it....The president needs the cooperation of all sorts of people (not just Members of Congress) who don't have to do what he wants; then again, no one else in the American political system has more potential ways to influence ("persuade") others.... Oh, and don't forget: the president has to talk about it, whether he wants to or not. Including in his State of the Union address, coming soon. Fortunately, if there's one thing that politicians are well-trained to do, it's saying something without saying anything. [Washington Post]