Obama energizes Dems on immigration

Obama energizes Dems on immigration
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Democrats say they are energized by leaked reports that suggest President Obama is going big on the issue of immigration by taking executive actions that could allow as many as 4.5 million people to stay in the United States legally.

Still reeling from a disastrous midterm election cycle that saw their party lose the Senate, Democrats say Obama could give their party a much-needed boost with the move while signaling to Republicans that he intends to confront them.

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“It sends a strong message to Republicans that we're not going to just roll over and die,” said one former senior administration official. “It also sends a warning of our own, that we do what we say we're going to do. We’re not messing around.”

While immigration groups have taken a more cautious approach to the leaks, Democratic strategists say the reports suggest Obama wants to show he intends to put points on the board in his second term.

Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who served as a spokesman to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said a disenchanted Democratic base has grown weary of empty promises.

“Obama drew a 'red line' on Syria and then backed off,” Manley said. “Republicans thought he was going to back off in a similar fashion here. But this sends a signal that he's ready to take these guys on.” 

Republicans are warning Obama that he will trigger a huge battle with Congress by taking unilateral action on immigration that could have a number of casualties, including Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDriverless car industry embraces Trump’s Transportation pick Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington MORE (R-Ky.) said he was “disturbed” by reports of Obama’s direction, while Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) warned of a constitutional crisis.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and other Republicans are pressing for language to be included in a bill funding the government that would use the congressional power of the purse to block actions by Obama on immigration.

Reports in The New York Times and Fox News suggest Obama is ready to dramatically expand his deferred action program so that the parents of children who are legal residents or citizens of the United States can avoid deportations.

The reports say Obama could also expand the program to allow more children to qualify for temporary legal status. The president is also looking at expanding specialty visas for high-tech workers.

The reports say between 2.5 million and 4.5 million people could qualify to stay in the United States under the changes.

Immigration groups commenting on the reports say they would represent a good start, but are hardly popping champagne.

“While we are cautiously optimistic to see that the administration seems to be moving forward with its executive order, we need to remember that this could be an accidental leak, a test balloon from an official leak, or even just a high-level rumor; considering how it’s from an anonymous source, we should keep our skepticism until we see action,” the Dream Action Coalition, which represents young people in the country illegally, said in a statement.

Hispanics have made no secret of their disappointment that Obama did not take action before the midterm elections. He instead decided to punt after Senate Democrats urged him to hold off.

The critical demographic has been frustrated with Obama’s inaction on the issue, and some worried it could hurt Hillary Clinton should she run in 2016.

Obama has seen his poll numbers plummet among Hispanic voters since his decision to punt the announcement until after Election Day. In a Pew survey released earlier this week, a third of all voters and 47 percent of Hispanics said there was no difference between the president and the GOP on the issue of immigration.

A Washington Post / ABC News poll released last week showed Obama's favorability among Hispanics has dropped a staggering 19 points since January.

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said it was important for Democrats that the president go big because “Latinos have been such a strong part of the Democratic coalition, and for them, this is a threshold issue.”

Another Democratic strategist agreed adding that if Republicans want to use Obama “as a scapegoat for their own inaction, it's all at their own peril” in 2016. 

But even staunch Obama supporters say that while they're pleased with the expected action Obama will take in the coming days, much more needs to be done. 

“It definitely sends a message that we're going to get stuff done and that things aren't going to stand still,” said Luis Miranda, a strategic communications consultant who served as the director of Hispanic media under Obama. “Ultimately, there needs to be a Congressional solution.”

—Justin Sink contributed to this report.