Mojo - June 2012

Republicans' Bad-Faith Objections to Letting DREAMers Stay

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 10:46 AM PDT
DREAM Act supporters protest in Austin, Texas in 2011.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a Department of Homeland Security directive allowing undocumented immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act to avoid deportation and acquire work authorization. People who were brought to the country under the age of 16, have been here longer than five years, and are under the age of 30 are eligible, but only if they don't have a criminal record and they have graduated high school, obtained a GED, or served in the armed forces. 

Republicans have voiced a number of objections to the new policy, but many of them are complete nonsense. Here are just a few of the false narratives we've seen repeated over the past few days:

This is amnesty! The Daily Beast's David Frum writes that the move is a "conditional amnesty, yes, but amnesty." Except it's not amnesty, unless we're changing the definition of amnesty. Let's go by the Webster's definition, which is an "act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals." The DHS directive does not "pardon" anyone. It is a statement of policy that says DHS will not deport certain unauthorized immigrants and that they will be given permission to work. This can be reversed by the next president. It does not grant even temporary legal status in the country, let alone citizenship or permanent residency, the only two outcomes that could be credibly described as "amnesty." A more appropriate metaphor to describe the order would be a "stay of execution," since in a year these people could find themselves in deportation proceedings.

This is the DREAM Act by fiat! It isn't, because Obama's DHS order does not offer a path to citizenship, which is what the DREAM Act would have granted. All it does is defer deportation and offer work authorization for a limited number of unauthorized immigrants.

It's a power grab! Some of these objections are more sincere than others. But deciding which cases to pursue and which to ignore has long been a prerogative of the executive branch. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. The federal government claims it only has the resources to deport about 400,000 a year. Deciding not to devote those limited resources to kicking out a group of unauthorized immigrants who didn't make the decision to end up here and could eventually gain legal status is a defensible use of executive authority. 

Republicans would have compromised, if only Obama had let them! Sadly, no. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) claimed to support comprehensive immigration reform in 2010, but Graham proclaimed the effort "dead" after Democrats had the gall to pass the Affordable Care Act. If you're not buying that excuse for killing the bill, Graham was also really upset that Democrats decided to prioritize immigration reform over cap and trade—another Democratic priority he claimed to support and then walked away from. It's almost as if the only Republican in the Senate even talking like he wanted to get something done on immigration wasn't really serious about it. By the time the DREAM Act, originally a Republican proposal, came up during the lame duck session in 2010, only a sprinkling of Senate Republicans were willing to cross the aisle to vote for the bill—and not enough to make up for skittish centrist Democrats who voted no. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the original sponsors, skipped the vote, and other former co-sponsors like John McCain (R-Ariz), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) voted no. 

Republicans would compromise, if only Obama secured the border! The Obama administration has overseen more than a million deportations, devoted more personnel and resources to border security, and net migration from Mexico is zero and possibly even negative. Whether that's due to the economy or security measures or some combination of both, Obama's political strategy of prioritizing deportations and border security in order to induce Republicans to compromise on immigration reform has only resulted in Republicans offering louder, harsher denounciations of the president's supposedly lax enforcement of immigration laws.

Obama had his chance to reform immigration and didn't make it a priority! This is a matter of opinion, and it's one shared by many immigration reform activists. But coming from Republicans, it's not the kind of criticism that can be taken seriously. Republicans did their best to block immigration reform efforts, and having done so, they are now attacking the president for being unable to overcome their successful obstruction. 

Obama messed things up for Rubio! Well, sure. But Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) started floating a proposal to offer temporary legal status to potential DREAM Act beneficiaries back in April. As of mid-June, he hadn't even put forth a bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had publicly said getting Rubio's proposal through the GOP-run House of Representatives would be "difficult at best." Following the announcement of the DHS directive, Rubio said he might not even bother trying anymore. For all the complaints about Obama playing politics on immigration, it's hard not to view Rubio's entire proposal as an attempt to make Republicans look more moderate on immigration than they actually are without committing to any concrete policy changes. If Republicans had been serious about granting lasting relief to potential DREAM Act beneficiaries, Obama's move would have made them prioritize such efforts rather than abandon them. There's always Rep. David Rivera's (R-Fla.) bill. But unlike Rubio, Rivera's not assumed to be in the running to join Romney on the GOP ticket. So no one cares. 

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Connecticut's Governor—A Democrat!—Sides With Dark Money (UPDATED)

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 7:45 AM PDT
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy (center).

This post has been updated.

One of the strongest pieces of political money disclosure legislation in the nation went down in flames on Friday, after Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, vetoed the measure. Lawmakers are already talking about reviving the legislation in a special session as early as late June.

Here's what House Bill 5556—supporters called it "disclosure on steroids"—would do if passed on the second attempt. The bill would require groups to immediately disclose the cost, funding source, and target of any TV or radio ads or other communications that cost more than $1,000 and mentioned a candidate within 90 days of an election. Political advertisers who ran ads outside that 90-day window would have to disclose key information about their ads within 24 hours—faster than current law requires. Ambiguously named groups like "Connecticut Citizens for a Better Future" or "Americans for a Stronger Economy" would have to disclose all donors who gave $1,000 or more; they would also have to include the names of their top five donors in any political ads. Any corporate political spending greater than $4,000 would have to be approved by a vote of that corporation's governing body.

Reformers had hailed HB 5556 as a dream package of disclosure measures. Gov. Malloy's veto squashed that dream—at least for now.

Malloy wrote in his veto message that he believed parts of the bill to be unconstitutional, potentially infringing on individuals' free speech protections under the First Amendment. Other parts of 5556, he argued, "represent poor public policy choices." He went on, "While I have advocated for transparency in the elections and campaign finance process for a long time, and could certainly support sensible reform in this area again, I cannot support the bill before me given its many legal and practical problems."

Malloy wasn't the only critic of HB 5556. Connecticut's largest business association, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association all urged Malloy to veto the bill. The newspapers association intepreted the bill to mean that sponsoring and airing a political debate would force through the onerous process of calculating and reporting the expenses of the debate as an independent expenditure.

Reformers blasted Malloy's constitutional complaints as misguided, and called his veto a pledge of support for dark money and unaccountable elections. Miles Rapoport, president of the left-leaning think tank Demos, said on Friday: "The governor's veto statement argues that HB 5556 is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but this argument is simply incorrect. The Supreme Court has made clear on numerous occasions, including in Citizens United itself, that disclosure laws are on firm constitutional footing."

Nick Nyhart, president of the pro-reform group Public Campaign, jabbed Malloy even harder: "Malloy had a chance to be a national leader on reform, but opted to side with wealthy special interests and secret money."

Chart: Why Liberals Lose Primaries More Often Than Conservatives

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 7:25 AM PDT

The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner had a nice story on Sunday about liberal and progressive candidates losing to more moderate and conservative candidates in Democratic primaries. "Three of the seven candidates endorsed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading liberal campaign organization, have lost their primaries," she notes. Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist/blogger, argues that "there seems to be a difference" between Republicans and the Democrats on this score, with moderates more likely to win Democratic primaries than Republican ones. He wonders why this is.

There's an answer! As Bernstein no doubt knows, the GOP is more ideologically unified than the Democratic party. Self-identified conservatives make up a much larger portion (71 percent, as of 2011) of the Republican party than self-identified liberals make up of the Democratic coalition (39 percent as of 2011—up from just 29 percent in 2000). Here are two charts from Gallup that make this clear:

There are some nuances to consider involving the words "progressive" and "liberal." But it's hard to dismiss these numbers.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 18, 2012

Mon Jun. 18, 2012 7:12 AM PDT

Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team discover a weapons cache while sweeping a remote mountain village on June 3, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The village is a suspected Taliban safe haven. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Maine Having Second Thoughts About Gay Marriage Ban

| Mon Jun. 18, 2012 6:56 AM PDT
Maine.

Next up on the marriage equality bandwagon: Maine.

Gay marriage was legal there for a brief stretch in 2009, when then-Democratic Gov. John Baldacci signed into law "An Act to Promote Marriage Equality and Affirm Religious Freedom." But that November, voters exercised a "people's veto," overturning the law with 52.7 percent of the vote. Now, on the heels of President Obama's public embrace of same-sex marriage, the tide seems to have turned, once more, in support of equality. According to a new poll from Boston's WBUR, 55 percent of Maine voters say they'll vote for an amendment on the November ballot effectively overturning their previous referendum:

WBURWBURThat's almost a 17 percent drop in opposition to gay marriage in just 3 years. And, despite a setback in North Carolina earlier this year, it tracks with the trend we've seen in other states. In Maryland, for instance, Public Policy Polling found a 12-point swing in support of marriage equality since March.

Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery Talk Dark Money With Bill Moyers

| Fri Jun. 15, 2012 5:00 PM PDT

Bill Moyers invited us to come on his show this week to chat about dark money, the undisclosed, often untraceable political spending made possible by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. In a wide-ranging (and incredibly gracious) interview, he asked us about everything from the latest super-PAC machinations to the nexus between political money and income inequality. Watch: 

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Mitt Romney to Rick Perry: Psych!

| Fri Jun. 15, 2012 1:37 PM PDT

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new directive to allow undocumented students (between the ages of 15 and 30) to stay in the country and receive work permits. It doesn't provide a path to citizenship, and it won't do much to halt the record number of deportations, but as Adam Serwer explains, it's a big deal.

Now, via TPM, Mitt Romney has weighed in:

"It could be reversed by subsequent presidents," Romney said. "I would like to see legislation that deals with this issue. And I happen to agree with Marco Rubio as he will consider this issue. He said this is an important matter. We have to find a long-term solution. But the president’s action makes reaching a long-term solution more difficult. If I'm president, we'll do our very best to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own by virtue of an act of their parents. Thank you."

Romney won't say whether his administration would undo the policy. But let's take a step back. This is the same Mitt Romney who helped run Rick Perry out of the presidential race by accusing of him being too soft on undocumented immigrants—all because Perry thought it was worthwhile to help undocumented kids go to college. This is the same Romney whose top immigration adviser, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has made self-deportation the norm in states like Arizona and Alabama. (On cue, Kobach told Think Progress on Friday that the new policy is "illegal". Prior to today, Romney would have blasted "certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country through no fault of their own" as a roundabout way of declaring "amnesty." But that was then. Without having the guts to state whether he would or would not revoke the Obama administration's directive, Obama Romney has given a good shake to his Etch-a-Sketch—and what was once a clear and certain line has gone muddy.

John McCain's Weird Allegation About "Foreign Money"

| Fri Jun. 15, 2012 11:38 AM PDT
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appeared on PBS's Newshour on Thursday and confirmed what we'd hinted at last week: When it comes to campaign finance reform, Mac is back. McCain unloaded on the Supreme Court decisions that opened the floodgates of outside spending, calling Citizens United "the most misguided, naïve, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st Century." But his comments on GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson have received the most media attention:

Senator and Romney presidential campaign surrogate John McCain (R-AZ) said Thursday that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is indirectly injecting millions of dollar in Chinese "foreign money" into Mitt Romney's presidential election effort.

"Much of Mr. Adelson's casino profits that go to him come from his casino in Macau, which says that obviously, maybe in a roundabout way foreign money is coming into an American political campaign," McCain said in an interview on PBS's News Hour.

Really, though? Inserting foreign money into an election is illegal. This was a big deal in the 1990s when foreign nationals were caught funneling money to benefit Democrats. But McCain is talking about something different. His argument is that Adelson is injecting foreign money into the campaign by...duping Chinese tourists into playing his slot machines. How, exactly, would one go about cracking down on this kind of thing? Would it apply to people who sell fake Rolexes to tourists in Battery Park too? With Adelson reportedly considering spending a "limitless" amount of money electing Romney, there's plenty to worry about, but McCain's barking up the wrong tree on this one. The true issue is not the source of Adelson's wealth—assuming his money is all legit—but the fact that one multi-billionaire can dump tens of millions of dollars, if not more, into the race and possibly tip the scales. This is not about China. This is a made-in-the-USA problem.

Obama's DREAM Act Game-Changer

| Fri Jun. 15, 2012 8:13 AM PDT
Supporters of the DREAM Act at a staged graduation ceremony on Capitol Hill

In a major campaign and policy development, the Obama administration is set to issue a Department of Homeland Security directive that would prevent DREAM Act-eligible undocumented immigrants from being deported.* According to the Associated Press:

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed. The officials who described the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it in advance of the official announcement.

Here's why this is a big deal: Obama has previously issued executive orders setting priorities for immigration enforcement, but this directive would grant DREAM Act-eligible undocumented immigrants work authorization—that is, allow them to obtain jobs legally in the United States. That will afford them the opportunity to stay in the US and work without fear of deportation, though a temporary and fragile standing that could easily be reversed if Mitt Romney moves into the White House next year.

Republicans will call this "amnesty." Yet this move doesn't grant citizenship or legal status. It's essentially a promise not to deport and permission to work—unless the order is reversed. This is a temporary solution to a policy problem that Congress has consistently lacked the courage to resolve: the presence of undocumented immigrants who are here through no fault of their own and who have never known another home. And the devil is in the implementation. Previous promises to exercise discretion by the administration haven't panned out as advertised. 

This is, however, a solution to a political problem. With the economy still struggling, Obama is dependent on a strong turnout by Latino voters, many of whom have familial or social ties to people here illegally. Until now, Obama hasn't had much progress to show on immigration reform, having presided over a record number of deportations, even as Republicans accuse him of lax enforcement. This decision helps Obama draw a contrast with Romney, who staked out a position on immigration to the right of his rivals during the GOP primary contest and who has fumbled his attempts to move toward the center on the issue. What Obama is doing here resembles a more reversible version of the legislation Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a potential Romney running mate, has promised to offer. 

As TPM's Brian Beutler writes, Republicans sympathetic to Rubio are all but certain to object on process grounds, arguing that Obama's DHS is doing by fiat what Rubio wants to do through an act of Congress. But Rubio's proposal (which has been touted for months without an actual bill being put forth) would grant legal status to those eligible. The DHS directive does not do that.

Nevertheless, it's hard to overstate the impact of this decision on those eligible. At least for the time being, they will no longer have to fear exile from the only place they've  ever really lived. Arguably, Obama could have done this earlier—but by doing it now, the president sharply defines a fundamental difference between him and Romney. If Romney wins, and he sticks to his stated position on immigration, the DREAMers will have to leave.

*Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly described the administration's move as an executive order. It is a Department of Homeland Security directive. The text has been corrected.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 15, 2012

Fri Jun. 15, 2012 7:06 AM PDT

US Marines with Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment set up security and await an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team during a patrol through local Afghan settlements in Habbib Abad, Afghanistan on May 28, 2012. The regiment conducted the patrol to interact with and record data from the local population of Boldak, in support of the International Security Assistance Force. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Reeves.