Obama Makes Pointless Gesture on Immigration. But Why?

| Wed May 28, 2014 9:35 AM EDT

President Obama has decided to delay action on a recommendation to reduce the number of deportations along the border:

President Obama has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night....“There are a number of folks suggesting that anything that the administration does could become an excuse for inaction in the House,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the president’s top immigration adviser.

There are several ways to read this. The first is that it really is an olive branch for Republicans, a demonstration that Obama doesn't want to do anything to derail the prospects of immigration reform. The second is that it's a threat: pass immigration reform or else Obama is going to do it on his own—and Republicans will end up with none of the things they wanted. The third is that this is basically aimed at voters. Obama is once again trying to show that he's the most reasonable guy in Washington, bending over backward to make concessions even in the face of total intransigence from Republicans.

I suppose there's a bit of all of these, but I suspect it's mostly #3. My read of the political situation is that comprehensive immigration reform is absolutely, irrevocably, completely dead, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. So neither concessions nor threats make any difference. Obama isn't a fool and must know this, which means the real audience for this announcement isn't on Capitol Hill. It's voters, pundits, interest group, and the media. In a nutshell, Obama doesn't want to give the Ron Fourniers of the world any excuse to pretend that he's the one who scuttled the chances of passing a bill.