WASHINGTON — To his strongest supporters, President Barack Obama is a uniquely skilled politician: a master strategist who traps his opponents in a clever game of rope-a-dope. It’s how he beat the Clintons, passed Obamacare and cruised to re-election in a bad economy.
I sympathize with Obama and support his domestic policy goals, but this always struck me as overstated. Obama is a talented politician, but in his five years as president, he’s made major political mistakes. The 2011 debt ceiling crisis was a huge debacle that threatened the global economy, and it owes itself — in part — to Obama’s decision to negotiate the debt limit, bucking precedent and sparking a spiral of Republican intransigence. He ended the standoff with a series of deals, but not without damage to his standing and the country.
If there’s another failure in the cards for Obama, it’s immigration. Since 2009 the president has pressed for comprehensive immigration reform at the same time that he’s increased border security. By 2012, in fact, the administration was spending unprecedented sums on border security and immigration enforcement, with results to match: That year, the administration removed 409,849 unauthorized immigrants from the United States, a record number.
Implicit in all of this was a political calculation. If Democrats cracked down on illegal immigrants, then Republicans might be more willing to come to the table for a broader solution. This paid dividends last year, when the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill that overhauled the nation’s immigration laws with tougher security and a path to legalization and citizenship for 11 million immigrants.
But this victory crashed on the shores of the House of Representatives, where Tea Party Republicans opposed any new overhaul, and could bend House Speaker John Boehner to their will. Their argument for inaction was easy: They couldn’t trust the president. To many House Republicans, Obama is a lawless tyrant who refuses to obey the rule of law, hence the post-hoc changes to Affordable Care Act.