Republicans will cave, the White House will win, the government will re-open, and the debt ceiling will be raised. These things are going to happen, just before or soon after the government hits its borrowing limit ““ and at that point, President Obama faces a decision.
Do I leverage my victory into a budget deal, eliminating both a long-term national threat and the main source of partisan bickering?
Or do I rub salt into the GOP’s self-inflicted wounds in the distant hope of winning the House in 2014?
Govern or campaign? Unite or divide? Lead or lay into the GOP?
Obama’s choice may be revealed in the way he approaches immigration reform, which he curiously declared Tuesday to be his top priority after the fiscal crisis.
“Once that’s done, you know, the day after, I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform,” Obama told the Los Angeles affiliate of Spanish-language television network Univision.
It’s an interesting choice, given the national debt is an existential national problem and the crux of the role-of-government debate that has tied Washington in knots for years. Does Obama really think immigration is a more serious problem? Or is it merely the best political issue for Democrats?
It is tempting to assume the worse, especially as Obama is modeling his immigration message on his fiscal-crisis talking points. Blaming House Speaker John Boehner for preventing immigration from coming up for a vote in the past, Obama said, “The only thing right now that’s holding it back is, again, Speaker Boehner not willing to call the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives.”
Make no mistake, Republicans are on the wrong side of the immigration debate, as measured by the 2012 election results and the nation’s shifting demography. The GOP also engineered the fiscal crisis, and Boehner is a tragically weak speaker.
But most voters would be disappointed if they learn that their president has abandoned governance and the hard work of dealing with a fractured GOP to engage in an all-or-nothing bid for the House. While the White House and Congress stumble to an agreement, the great unknown is Obama’s second act. Will he be more presidential than political? Or will raw politics define his presidency?