.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire


My Photo
Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Obama’s order has touched off a new battle, and many wonder what will happen after he leaves

From The Washington Post:

President Obama’s decision to lift the threat of deportation from nearly 4 million illegal immigrants, arguably his most aggressive use of executive power, has deeply divided the nation.

The first immigration law — the Naturalization Act of 1790 — was one that set a racist standard. It offered citizenship to any “free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years,” provided he was “a person of good character.”

So conflicted have been the country’s views on the question that in 1886, the year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor to welcome your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, mobs rioted in Seattle and forced more than half the city’s 350 Chinese residents onto a ship to San Francisco.

The last overhaul of the immigration system was seeded by President Ronald Reagan, who said in a 1984 debate, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though some time back, they may have entered illegally.”

But that leniency, it is now widely agreed, amounted to an invitation for more to come. There were 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants in this country when the 1986 law was passed. Now, that number is estimated at upwards of 11 million.

The unilateral action of a president — which can be undone by his successor — will not do much to settle the debate about immigration, and indeed, seems certain in the short term to inflame it.

Shields and Brooks and on Hagel

From the PBS Newshour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both to running the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Mark, steps down this week. He’s the third secretary of defense in the Obama administration to be leaving the position. They are now looking for a fourth. What does this say, does Chuck Hagel’s experience say about the administration, say about him?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, you know, I should acknowledge right up front I’m a sympathizer, supporter of Chuck Hagel, and have been for a long time, admired his own service both to the country politically and publicly and volunteered in the military to serve as heroically as he did in Vietnam.

But, Judy, when you’re looking for your fourth secretary of defense in less than six years, which is what this administration is doing, and the previous two, Hagel’s two predecessors, both went public with charges of micromanagement from the White House, that — Bob Gates, a reasonable man, said it drove him crazy.

When — when Leon Panetta said it’s leading to an exclusion of other voices, just a limitation, that the president is sort of surrounded by this clique of very hyper, uber loyalists, but with very few other people, that the Cabinet is excluded, I think it’s a comment on a situation that is serious to the president.

And I really…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A situation that…

MARK SHIELDS: A situation that he is in a bubble that is very, very narrowed, that they’re trying to run everything out of the White House.

And I think this is a — I think it’s a problem that they had that Gates complained of it, that Panetta complained of it. And it didn’t change under Chuck Hagel. And they can fault Chuck Hagel. The president praises him and then immediately the White House staffs starts sniping that he wasn’t up to the job, he didn’t have the substance, he wasn’t proactive, whatever the hell that means.

So, they immediately accuse the president of dissembling — their — their loyalists are suggesting the president was being disingenuous when he praised the president and — the secretary as an exemplary defense secretary.



Well, each administration over the last 30 years probably has concentrated more and more power in the White House. For a long time, most of the other Cabinet secretary jobs have been neutered. But it used to be, you had the big three, secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the surgeon general, had some independent authority.

Under this administration, I think even the big three have been severely weakened, none more seriously than Chuck Hagel. There are people who follow this who say he underperformed in certain roles, especially the outside roles.

But it’s certainly true that he wasn’t consulted in all sorts of policies concerning the Defense Department, that decisions were made in the White House both here and abroad and then he was told about them later. And he tried to be a good soldier. And so if you are going to hire somebody to be a good soldier, you can’t really fault them for not being proactive, because you’re not giving them anything to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do we look for the next secretary of defense to be somebody who very close — already in close with the White House, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Judy, ironically, the next secretary of defense is probably Chuck Hagel.
I mean, we have had two — Jack Reed, senator from Rhode Island, rejected it 30 microseconds after he was floated. Michele Flournoy, the former deputy secretary of defense, said she wasn’t interested. So, I don’t know who is going to be and then confirmed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick thought, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. They’re having trouble, because who wants to be a weak person with only two years left?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Democratic Rifts Surface in Wake of Midterm Election Defeat - Leaders Dispute Wisdom of Health-Care Overhaul, Delaying Move on Immigration

From The Wall Street Journal:

Long-muted tensions within the Democratic Party over policy and strategy are beginning to surface publicly, a sign of leaders looking beyond President Barack Obama ’s tenure in the aftermath of the party’s midterm election defeat.

A prominent example came this week, when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a member of the Senate leadership, gave a rare public rebuke to Mr. Obama over the centerpiece of his presidency: the health-care overhaul of 2010. Mr. Schumer said the party should have focused on helping a broader swath of the middle class than the uninsured, whom he called “a small percentage of the electorate.’’

On the same day, the White House surprised Democratic leaders in the Senate by threatening to veto a tax package negotiated by both parties. The White House said the deal would help “well-connected corporations while neglecting working families.’’

The twin developments were among fissures within the party that, at their broadest level, show Democrats at odds over what economic message to present to voters ahead of the 2016 presidential race. Worried that they lacked a compelling position in the midterms, Democrats are split over whether to advance a centrist message or a more populist economic argument that casts everyday families as victims of overly powerful corporations and benighted government policies.

“You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), as the progressive wing of the party splits from centrists, who fear that liberal economic policy proposals are unpalatable to most voters. “There is a substantial disagreement coming up.”

Democratic infighting has largely been out of public view for the last half-dozen years. Since Mr. Obama took office, Republicans have been the ones dealing with rifts. A conservative Tea Party wing clashed with mainstream Republicans in primary contests this year, jockeying for sway over the party’s ideological compass. That debate remains unsettled and is likely to play out in the 2016 Republican primaries.

Now, it is the Democrats who are looking increasingly fractious. Unusual as it was to see Mr. Schumer part ways with Mr. Obama on policy, it was even more extraordinary for him to target the Affordable Care Act, a law so tied to the Obama legacy.

Democrats, Mr. Schumer said, “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by focusing “on the wrong problem—health care.” Key provisions of the health law, he said, affected relatively few voters. Instead, the party should have pressed for programs that would have raised wages and helped more of the middle class, he said.

Mr. Schumer’s comments drew angry responses from Obama loyalists. They said Mr. Obama had promised to break from a politics-as-usual attitude in Washington, while echoing the president’s argument that making health care more widely available boosted many Americans’ economic security.

David Axelrod, a top strategist in both of Mr. Obama’s presidential races, said: “If your calculus is solely how to win elections, and that is your abiding principle, it leads you to Sen. Schumer’s position. But that’s precisely why big, difficult problems often don’t get addressed in Washington, and why people have become so cynical about that town and its politics.”

Through a spokesman, Mr. Schumer declined to comment.

The intraparty fight has touched on other elements of policy and strategy since it erupted soon after this month’s elections, which stripped Democrats of their Senate majority. David Krone, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), publicly blamed Mr. Obama for Democratic losses. He said the president wouldn’t transfer millions of dollars in party funds to help save imperiled Democrats, and he told the Washington Post that “the president’s approval rating is barely 40%.… What else more is there to say?”

As is the case with Mr. Schumer, Mr. Krone’s comments were an unusual breach of protocol. It is rare for Democrats at senior levels to publicly criticize other Democrats—and rarer still for a legislative aide to chide a president from his own party. Mr. Reid’s office declined to make Mr. Krone available for an interview.

Addressing Mr. Krone’s comments, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier this month that Messrs. Obama and Reid had “struck up a genuine friendship when the two men served together in the United States Senate, and that relationship has only been strengthened during the president’s time in the White House.”

Mr. Krone’s boss is having his own troubles with the White House. Sen. Reid is backing the tax-cut bill that drew a veto threat from Mr. Obama, because it doesn’t include a proposal backed by liberals to make enhanced tax credits for the working poor permanent, alongside tax breaks for businesses.
Adding to the deepening divide between Messrs. Reid and Obama is that the deal included a measure that would benefit Mr. Reid’s home state as the Nevada Democrat readies himself for a likely 2016 re-election bid. A presidential veto wouldn’t help his cause.

Tensions have also emerged between House and Senate Democrats. One flashpoint was immigration. Some House Democrats believe it was a mistake for Mr. Obama to wait until after the midterm elections to take executive action limiting deportations, a delay that the president agreed to at the behest of Senate Democratic leaders trying to protect vulnerable incumbents, such as Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. The delay didn’t stop Mr. Pryor and other Senate Democrats from losing.

One senior House Democratic aide said many House Democrats believe the delay hurt Hispanic turnout, contributing to the defeat of Reps. Pete Gallegos of Texas and Joe Garcia in Florida.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” this aide said, “but there was all this effort to avoid anything Mark Pryor might be asked about. All that effort was for nothing. Clearly, that strategy failed.”

Part of the reason for Democratic feuding is Mr. Obama’s declining popularity as he enters the final quarter of his presidency. Various Democrats hope to emerge as the new center of gravity in the party.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears the logical choice, given that she is likely to run for president in 2016, and polls show her comfortably leading the field of potential Democratic rivals in the primaries. Yet for many liberals, it isn’t Mrs. Clinton who stokes the most passion, but the first-term senator from Massachusetts, populist firebrand Elizabeth Warren.

“She is someone who voters see as authentic and inspiring, as opposed to someone who is trying to play it safe and take no risks,” said Erica Sagrans, a former Obama campaign aide who is trying to entice Ms. Warren to run for president.

Mr. Schumer may also have designs on a more influential role in the party. He has long been seen as someone with an eye on the leadership spot now held by Mr. Reid. Some Democrats saw his speech as an effort to lay a course for the party that might position him for a spot higher in the party hierarchy.

In a sign of the emerging struggle over which direction to take the party, Senate Democrats met for four hours behind closed doors earlier this month to hash out what went wrong in the midterm elections and how they would operate next year, when they will be in the minority. Mr. Reid was reappointed Democratic leader, but a handful of moderate Democrats voted against him.

In a concession to the party’s liberal wing, members also created a new leadership post—for Ms. Warren.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Pilgrims and the Roots of the American Thanksgiving - English settlers of the 17th century were a diverse lot, and they became Americans despite themselves

Malcolm Gaskill writes in The Wall Street Journal:

In the fall of 1621, 50 English men and women and 90 Native Americans gathered at New Plymouth in Massachusetts. The colonists had arrived a year earlier on a leaky wine ship, the Mayflower, and built a hillside settlement overlooking the ocean, little more than a few wooden huts in a stockade. The first winter had been terrible: Half their number had perished from malnutrition and disease. They had struggled to farm the land, were poorly supplied from England and relied on their Indian hosts for expertise and food.

But in the end, they did it. According to Edward Winslow, who had buried his wife that March, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling so that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor.” The Pilgrims, as they would later be known, celebrated for three days—an event immortalized in American history as the first Thanksgiving.

The story has been heavily mythologized, and the numerous depictions of it that have come down to us are mostly patriotic romances, full of errors about the dress, technology and general atmosphere of the day. What we most tend to overlook in the Thanksgiving tale, however, is the wider context of settlement. English colonists—350,000 of them in the 17th century—were a diverse lot, and more English than you might imagine. Having left the Old World for the New, they clung to their old identities and tried to preserve them. In this, they failed, and yet from that failure, a new national character was born—the primary traits of which are still visible in Americans today.

The first colonists actually arrived more than a decade before the Mayflower, establishing themselves on the steamy river plantations of Virginia and the rocky coasts of Maine. The northern colony failed within a year. The Virginia settlements fared better, and thousands of young, mostly male apprentices poured into the tobacco fields to toil alongside growing numbers of enslaved Africans. A similar pattern developed in the other Chesapeake colony, Maryland. In the 1630s, successive waves of Puritan ships reached Massachusetts, their passengers settling in Boston and its satellite communities.

After this great migration came the “great reshuffle.” Settlers relocated to Rhode Island, New Hampshire and the lush plains of the Connecticut Valley, which in turn attracted newcomers from England. Meanwhile, the French settled in Canada and the Dutch in present-day New York. By 1660, there were 58,000 colonists in New England and the Chesapeake, compared with 3,000 in New France and 5,000 in Dutch New Netherland. Most English migrants—190,000 of them—went to the West Indies, where slave-owning planters specialized in sugar production and sustained New England by importing its food crops.

Virginia began life in 1607, at a quasi-military outpost called Jamestown. Captain John Smith, its leader and savior, described “pleasant plain hills and fertile valleys, one prettily crossing another…a plain wilderness as God first made it.” But this was no Eden. Appalling conditions—hostile natives, polluted water and rampant disease—were made worse by infighting and political chaos.

Unable to grow enough food, the colonists faced starvation by the winter of 1609. They ate vermin and leather—even the starch from their collars. “Nothing was spared to maintain life,” recalled George Percy, “and to do those things which seem incredible, as to dig up dead corpses out of graves and to eat them.” Nine out of 10 died, and the survivors and their often clueless replacements still had to find exports like timber, furs and pitch to pay their way. In the end, a farmer named John Rolfe cracked the problem with a new strain of sweet tobacco. A year later, there were wooden vending machines for tobacco in London alehouses. Virginia was in business.

Colonists always needed more land, but they had to tread carefully. Rolfe married an Indian princess named Pocahontas, which delighted the Virginia Company. The union meant ethnic peace in America and made for good propaganda at home. Renamed Rebecca Rolfe, she was received at the royal court in London, where, Smith noted, those clamoring to meet her “had seen many English ladies worse favored, proportioned and behaviored.”

Pocahontas’s death as she prepared to return home, probably from tuberculosis, destabilized relations with her people, and a dark cloud passed over Virginia. In 1622, a native uprising killed 347 colonists—a third of all English people in America. Even those who had come over to spread the gospel hardened their hearts. Now the English would take what they wanted. “Our hands, which before were tied with gentleness and fair usage,” remarked the Virginia Company secretary, “are now set at liberty.”

A year later, Virginia was still in a bad way. A youth named Richard Frethorne begged his parents to bring him home. “You would be grieved if you did know as much as I do,” he sobbed, “when people cry out day and night—Oh! That they were in England.” A few months later, he was dead.

By this time, 600 miles to the north, Plymouth had been established. Prospective adventurers had learned from colonists there, and from the disasters at Jamestown, the importance of building colonies on firm foundations of family, authority, law, trade and a division of labor. Jamestown had underestimated the importance of women, whose work was invaluable and who allowed a colony to grow. So when the Puritan John Winthrop assembled his first fleet to sail to Massachusetts in 1630, the emphasis was on relocating households, even whole communities.

The first passenger ashore at Boston was a 9-year-old girl, who later remembered a land “very uneven, abounding in small hollows and swamps, and covered with blueberry and other bushes.” The migrants, ravaged by scurvy, were forced to shelter in burrows that they dug into the riverbank, where they ate fish and dried peas. From that modest start, however, they not only survived but thrived.

Gradually, across the eastern seaboard, colonies assumed their own forms and flavors. Massachusetts was repressive and, to England, seemed disloyal. Connecticut was tolerant, Rhode Island even more so. Maryland welcomed Catholics, which scandalized the ultra-Protestant Puritans. Maine seemed godless and ungoverned: One report alleged that Kennebec fishermen believed that “as many men may share in a woman as they do in a boat.”

There was variety even among the 102 passengers of the Mayflower, half of whom were “strangers” of dubious piety and morality. The Pilgrims were united by the religious community that they had formed in Leiden, Holland. The rest, who came from all over England, had little in common. Regional identities were strong, and there was little love lost between East Anglians and West Countrymen. And that was just one ship.

Life in the early colonies was unbelievably hard. Most colonies failed, and even in the promising ones, thousands of settlers died. Of the 10,000 people transported to Virginia after 1607, only a fifth were still alive in 1622. Many, in remote plantations dotted along the eastern seaboard, simply disappeared. Communications were poor and loneliness endemic. Wolves were a persistent menace, although colonists learned to kill them with fishhooks wrapped in fat.

Even when food was plentiful, it was monotonous: Settlers mostly ate cornbread and vegetable stew. Imported beer soured, and domestic brews were impossible without malt. At first, there were no shops, and Winthrop’s migrants were advised to take everything with them, including window glass.

New England’s soil was stony and hard to plow; crops were ruined by floods and droughts and caterpillars. The ice and snow exceeded anything experienced in England. There were few doctors, and remedies ranged from the bizarre to the dangerous. A Maine man who sucked an infection from his wife’s breast lost his teeth from the arsenic that had been previously applied.

The greatest trial was conflict with Native Americans. In the 1670s, New England was almost wiped off the map by what was, in proportion, the most devastating war in American history. Townships were overrun, their inhabitants killed or spirited away. Twelve settlements were destroyed, and 2,000 colonists died, including one-in-10 able-bodied men.

In February 1676, Thomas Eames, a farmer at Framingham, itemized his losses: a house, a barn, grain, tools and, at the top of the list, “a wife and nine children.” That same month, Mary Rowlandson, a minister’s wife at Lancaster, Mass., was seized during an Indian raid and endured three months of privation in freezing conditions. She ate “filthy trash” with her captors, whom she called “barbarous creatures.” Such terrifying experiences make it hard to understand why anyone stayed in America.

But then why had anyone come in the first place? Their reasons were manifold. The Pilgrims wanted to worship freely outside the Church of England. Others wanted to reform English religion. Most Virginians simply wanted to find land where they could make a living.

All of the colonists were trying to recreate a better version of the Old World rather than inventing something new. In society and economy, politics and religion, England was changing, many felt for the worse, and nostalgia for a golden age of faith—based on scripture, healthy social relations and charity among neighbors—was a powerful incentive to emigrate.

Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” speech, beloved of modern presidential speechwriters, was more of a reactionary manifesto than a radical one. It spoke of values that had decayed in English life to be resurrected across the Atlantic. This was revolution 17th-century style: a return to the status quo ante.

So the colonists set about building English houses, mixing arable farmland with pasture, approximating English meals and wearing their warm woolens, regardless of the weather. They behaved, so far as possible, as if nothing had changed. They imposed familiar hierarchies, enforced English laws and appointed magistrates and constables.

Wherever they went, they anglicized Indian place-names. Dozens of English towns and villages—Dorchester, Ipswich, Springfield—were reborn in America: Boston had been, and still is, a small Lincolnshire port. Long Island became “Yorkshire,” split into three parts or “ridings,” just like the English county.

America was the child, conceived and raised in the image of the parent—an extension of England, not its replacement. Writing in 1697, John Higginson, a minister at Salem, Mass., desired only “that the Little Daughter of New England in America may bow down herself to her Mother England.”

In the end, however, pretending to be in England, like turning expectantly to a lost golden age, was futile. Many succumbed to homesickness. One woman faked an inheritance that, she said, had to be collected in person, just so that her husband would let her go home. Some returned for good—one in five New Englanders by 1640.

Nor were the English alone in America. The varied character of their colonies was due not just to the pressures of landscape and ecology but to tense relations with Native Americans and European neighbors.

Failing to retain a recognizably English identity caused anxiety and disappointment. But from failure emerged something truly striking, a spirit that resonates in America across the centuries. Colonial character was driven by a creative tension between lofty ideals and mundane desires. Trying to remain the same, it turned out, demanded a constant effort of industry and reinvention.

The liberties that many migrants felt were being abused at home, by royal contempt for the rights of freeborn Englishmen, ended up being defended in America through the bondage of others—both indentured servants and slaves—and the disinheritance and dispersal of Native Americans. And for all their inward-looking community spirit, the fortunes of many New England communities depended on their expansion. The Puritan idea of a “sufficiency”—having just enough land to be comfortable—was compromised by commercial greed and voracious land grabs.

American religion also evolved in a surprising way. In Philadelphia—“the city of brotherly love”—and other economic centers, Christian virtues were extolled in an expanding world of litigiousness and competition. The secularism in civil government propagated in Rhode Island has its legacy today in the constitutional separation of church and state, but this coexists with an intense religiosity in politics that the Pilgrim fathers would have recognized and admired.

Still, for all their diversity and contradictions, English migrants to America tended to conform to a single recognizable type: the intrepid, resilient, undaunted pioneer. In every colony, similar challenges were met with the same determination and optimism.

Here we might return to Plymouth in 1621 and to the true story of the first Thanksgiving, which is richer and more edifying than the familiar holiday version. When the Pilgrim William Bradford said, “They began now to gather in the small harvest they had…being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty,” he was bearing witness to the fact that, in their first crucial year, they had barely survived.

The Pilgrims were not typical settlers in the new land, but they still exemplify the extraordinary imagination and belief, fortitude and courage, shown by colonists across early America—qualities shared today by all manner of Americans, regardless of their ancestry.

Dr. Gaskill is professor of early modern history at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans,” published this month by Basic Books.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

White House seeks a stronger hand at Pentagon to manage crises

From The Washington Post:

President Obama tapped Chuck Hagel as defense secretary because he wanted someone who would quietly implement the administration’s policy, avoid controversy and promote no big, sweeping ideas.

Hagel was forced to resign Monday for being exactly that defense secretary.

Hagel didn’t make big mistakes. Nor had he lost the confidence of the uniformed military. But he often seemed lost or overly deferential to his generals in top-level White House strategy meetings, especially those focused on the battle against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, senior administration officials said.

“I could never tell what his opinion was on anything,” said a senior administration official involved in national security policy. “He’d never speak. . . . The key comment, the insightful approach — that never came out of him.”

His departure isn’t likely to lead to big changes in Iraq and Syria, where the president recently doubled the number of U.S. military advisers, or in Afghanistan, where Obama seems committed to ending the war. Nor is it likely to lead to warmer relations with Congress, as happened when Donald H. Rumsfeld was fired as defense secretary by President George W. Bush in 2006 and replaced by Robert M. Gates, who was widely hailed as his polar opposite.

“No one is going to be hailed to be the anti-Hagel,” said Douglas Ollivant, a retired Army officer and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “No one hates Hagel.”

Hagel’s replacement, meanwhile, will also have to grapple with a hands-on White House that has, at times, infuriated his predecessors and the Pentagon brass with its management style.

“There is teeth-gnashing over micromanagement,” a senior defense official said. “Relations have not been great.”

White House officials regularly call commanders in Afghanistan to gauge their thinking on the progress of the war and their future troop needs. Those calls were a particular source of irritation to Gates, who said he tried to squelch them during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. In a speech this month at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, he recalled being shocked to discover that a direct telephone line to the White House had been installed in the Afghanistan headquarters of the elite Joint Special Operations Command.

“I had them tear it out while I was standing there,” Gates said. “And I told the commanders, ‘You get a call from the White House, you tell them to go to hell and call me.’ ”

Since then, the calls to field commanders have resumed, defense officials said.

Changing World Shrank Hagel’s Appeal to Obama - With Obama Now Considering Re-entering Mideast Conflicts, Defense Secretary Was the Odd Man Out

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Chuck Hagel was chosen to be the defense secretary who could help his boss, President Barack Obama , complete the exit from Middle East wars. It was his misfortune to arrive just when the president instead needed to consider re-entering conflicts in that tortured region.
That, as much as anything, explains why the fit was never quite right, and why he will be exiting his job prematurely.

The arc of Mr. Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon serves as a kind of metaphor for Mr. Obama’s second term, at least on the national-security front. The second term was to be marked by the final and complete exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by a decidedly un-George-Bush-like resistance to the constant temptation to jump back into Middle East conflicts.

Mr. Hagel was, on paper at least, ideally positioned to help oversee that new phase. He is a Republican with military credentials—decorated Vietnam War veteran, extensive work in the Senate on national-security issues—who from the beginning shared the president’s deep skepticism about the Iraq war. And he seemed to agree on the desirability of an extraction from Afghanistan.

His tenure got off to a famously bad start when many of his former GOP Senate colleagues opposed his nomination, in some cases because his antiwar sentiments were brandished a little too clearly for their tastes, in other cases because of suspicions that his aversion to Middle East conflicts was an extension of antipathy toward Israel. His confirmation hearings were bad enough that they prevented him from ever winning the confidence of the small and tight circle of White House advisers around Mr. Obama.

Still, he was confirmed in early 2013, at the outset of the second Obama term, and circumstances seemed aligned to allow him to focus on two important items at which he, in fact, proved adept. The first was pivoting security strategy toward Asia. The second was overseeing a reduction in the Pentagon budget that could be accomplished without tearing too many holes in the defense structure, and with the endorsement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was far from certain.

But soon two threats began to rise steadily: the turmoil of the civil war in Syria and the parallel growth of the Islamic State militant army.

The Syrian mess led to a fateful stretch in late summer of 2013 when the president very publicly pledged to attack Syria because of President Bashar al-Assad ’s use of chemical weapons, then hesitated amid congressional opposition, then ultimately decided against a military strike. There was little sign Mr. Hagel was deeply involved in what in retrospect may prove to be the most important military decision of the second term—though he was honest enough later to admit the administration hadn’t handled it well.

That was followed this year by the surge of Islamic State fighters, first in Syria and then in Iraq. In Syria, the moderate Free Syrian Army the U.S. had been supporting, fitfully, in the civil war there was in danger of being swamped by the more radical Islamic State. And in Iraq, the gains the U.S. had made over a decade of struggle were being reversed in rapid order.

Mr. Hagel’s antiwar profile seemed less useful when the administration increasingly was turning back to a war footing. The administration badly needed a public spokesman to deflect the charges, from Capitol Hill and elsewhere, that it had no clear strategy for dealing with the Syrian civil war and was falling behind the curve in the fight against Islamic State. But the White House never really trusted Mr. Hagel to be a reliable public spokesman.

Ultimately, Mr. Hagel found himself caught between military leaders in the Pentagon, increasingly unhappy at the administration’s reluctance to allow them to do more to protect gains in Iraq, and a president loath to rush back in. He vented about the lack of a clear policy for dealing with Syria—one that would allow defeat of both Mr. Assad and Islamic State—in a memo to the White House a few weeks ago. Yet he found himself without the full confidence of any side.

Inevitably, politics also intruded, especially after this month’s brutal midterm election for Mr. Obama’s Democrats. “Democrats feel vulnerable on national security,” says one Democratic national-security strategist. “Part of this is that Obama needs to turn around and show he has a serious national-security team.” Someone needed to be a sacrificial offering.

The administration has begun seeking more outside counsel on how to handle its security challenges. Vice President Joe Biden , among others, has been reaching out for advice.

Officials now realize they need a better plan, not just for fighting Islamic State but for addressing the deep-seated problems in Syria and Iraq that have given it an opening. As it happens, that isn’t the task for which Chuck Hagel was hired.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Farmers Urge Congress to Legalize Agriculture Workers - Obama Move Will Help Only a Fraction of the Undocumented Immigrants Toiling on Nation’s Fields, Farmers Say

From The Wall Street Journal:

For four years, Fred Leitz has seen vegetables and fruits on his 600-acre family farm go unpicked. For even longer, he has been urging Congress to pass an immigration overhaul that solves the labor shortage.

“We’ve gotten nowhere,” said the fourth-generation Michigan grower, who visits Washington four or five times a year.

President Barack Obama took executive action Friday to temporarily legalize millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, though the program doesn’t specifically address agriculture. Under the plan, an estimated 250,000 farm workers likely would be eligible for relief from deportation and for work permits, the United Farmworkers Union said. That is a fraction of total number of undocumented workers toiling in U.S. fields, say farmers, who hope that Mr. Obama’s decision to take unilateral action will propel Congress to achieve a legislative solution that addresses agriculture workforce needs.

“Our concern is they are so busy pointing fingers at each other they won’t get down to business,” said Ed Schoen, a New York dairy farmer and board member of the Dairy Farmers of America, which represents a third of U.S. dairy farmers.

“Hopefully, this motivates them to come together to work on a fix to the broken immigration laws,” said Ralph Broetje, a Washington state apple grower who employs more than 2,000 workers, the vast majority of them immigrants.

More than half of all field workers are undocumented, according to the U.S. Labor Department, and many farmer groups estimate the share to be higher than 70%.

Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, an association that represents hundreds of farmers in California and Arizona, said that “preventing the implementation of executive actions alone is not enough,” referring to GOP threats to scuttle Mr. Obama’s plan. “These actions by the president should also serve as a catalyst for Congress to lead,” he said, adding that U.S. agriculture is in jeopardy.

Frustration is running so high that farmers like Mr. Leitz say they have started to withhold contributions from Republicans in elections. “I’m not giving any more to guys who haven’t helped us,” said the farmer, who describes his politics as “very conservative.”

Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, said, “I am personally aware of farmers and small-business people who would normally support Republicans but have ceased political contributions generally, out of frustration over Congress’ inability to find common ground and solve the problem.”

Ideally, farmers say, a congressional fix would legalize undocumented field workers and encourage them to stay in agriculture, as well as include provisions to ensure a steady flow of seasonal workers who could enter and leave the country with relative ease.

Most growers shun the current guest-worker program, known as H-2A, which they say involves multiple steps and a variety of federal agencies that make it expensive, bureaucratic and inefficient.

Farm workers who benefited from the last legalization program, an amnesty in 1986, represent just 10% of today’s field workers, and many of them are aging. The average age of farm workers overall is about 37 years old, according to government data, up from 31 in 2000.

All told, the shrinking supply of workers has led farm wages to rise across the country. Mark Gilson, a nurseryman in Perry, Ohio, says that he still has had trouble finding enough workers for three years. Brenda Alford, a potato farmer in Pasco, Wash., said that a few years ago her family had to “plow out” 500 acres of asparagus. “The labor shortage hasn’t gotten any better,” she said.

The president’s plan drew criticism for failing to put in place any measures to discourage an exodus from agriculture among immigrants who benefit from relief. As the oil industry booms and construction recovers, those fields are likely to compete for the same workers, farmers say.

“The way Obama went about this is going to further devastate agriculture. We are going to lose labor,” said Steve Scaroni, a labor contractor who operates in Salinas, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz.

Some farmers are also concerned they could be legally obligated to fire newly protected workers under the Obama plan, if they admit they lied about their immigration status to secure their jobs, said Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Conservative expert on immigration law to pursue suit against executive action

From The Washington Post:

[Kris] Kobach, a 48-year-old lawyer and the person many conservatives have anointed to defeat it. For a decade, he has led the legal effort to strengthen the country’s immigration laws and toughen their enforcement.

But he is also Kansas’s secretary of state . . . Governors have been texting his cellphone and Senate staffers have been sending e-mails, and everyone is asking Kobach a version of the same question:
Can he beat this?

He has devoted his career to an immigration fight he always believed would be incremental. First he sued states for offering in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. Then he wrote tough immigration enforcement laws for Arizona and Alabama. Then he counseled Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) on the legality of using the National Guard to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He has been playing the long game, hoping to build a consensus case against amnesty over the course of his career, but now, listening on the phone, it sounds to him as if Obama is saying the case is over and the ruling is in. If so, his life’s work is unraveling, and a last stand will have to come now.

“Unbelievable,” he says, listening to Obama explain the basics of his plan to defer action for up to 4 million illegal immigrants, and when Obama says he will no longer deport people who have “played by the rules,” he begins writing notes.

“Illegal means not playing by rules,” he writes.

“Huh?” he writes when Obama explains his reasons for acting alone. “You have NO AUTHORITY!”

“A huge thing just happened tonight in the history of this country,” he announces to the group, and then he explains the details. “Imperial, executive amnesty,” he says. “The sacrificial shredding of our Constitution.”
People are enraged. They ask about the possibilities of impeachment or arresting the president for treason, and Kobach shakes his head. “Then what can we do?” one man asks.

Kobach says he has spent the last week considering that question, and he can think of only two options. “Congress could vote to defund parts of the government,” he says, but his friends in Congress tell him that is unlikely. The other option is a lawsuit filed by states and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents against the federal government. “That one’s on me,” he says. He tells the group he has already begun drafting a suit as the lead attorney, with plans to file it in early December. Texas is interested in being a plaintiff. So are a few other states.

“Either we win this way or we lose big,” Kobach says. “If that happens, all of these illegal aliens will be eligible to feed at the trough filled by hardworking American people.”

That’s how he considers himself: as a man of absolutes, of order. His four daughters are home­schooled. His hair is always gelled and styled. He keeps an oversize dictionary open on a stand by his desk and an antique map collection on the walls. He went from being a champion high school debater, to graduating summa cum laude in his class at Harvard, to rowing for Oxford, to editing the Yale Law Journal.

“I believe in rules and fairness,” he says, and those are among the reasons he says he was attracted to immigration law in the first place. In what other kind of law was the legal conclusion so obvious? “Illegal alien,” he says. “We can argue it a million ways, but really, what more is there to say?”

He received a White House fellowship a few weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, and after the terrorist attacks he advised then-Attorney General John Ashcroft on immigration issues. He returned home to Kansas City, Kan., a few years later to take a job as a professor of constitutional law, just as Kansas passed a statute giving illegal immigrants eligibility for in-state college tuition. Kobach filed a lawsuit on behalf of out-of-state students who also wanted to pay in-state rates, and then he filed similar suits in two other states. There were only a few dozen conservative experts on immigration law — and fewer still who had spent time working inside the White House — and his caseload spread quickly across nearly a dozen states. He filed motions to prevent illegal immigrants from renting apartments in Pennsylvania, from committing voter fraud in Kansas and from taking jobs without work authorization in Arizona and Alabama. Some of the motions have been successful, some have lost and some are ongoing. He helped presidential nominee Mitt Romney formulate his immigration positions. He co-wrote 16 state laws and became one of the country’s most divisive politicians before ever being elected to state office.

“What bothers me most is the constitutionality of this,” he tells one Republican lawmaker over the phone, the day after Obama’s announcement. Kobach is working on the lawsuit, 40 or 50 pages already written. “We have a clear violation here of Article 2, Section 3,” he says.

“We are moving ahead quickly,” he tells another lawmaker. “We just have to sign the affidavits and gather the facts.”

The key to his lawsuit is finding the right plaintiffs, he says, so he has spent the last weeks compiling a list of more than a dozen ICE agents who he says are eager to file suit. They were hired and trained to enforce the country’s immigration laws, and now, he says, they believe that the president is essentially asking them to break those laws. Kobach also wants at least one state to be a plaintiff, likely Texas and possibly others. States are “lining up to sue this time,” he says. He could file one lawsuit on behalf of several states, which he thinks might have the best chance of reaching the Supreme Court. Or he could file individual lawsuits, one for each state, and force the issue into several federal court districts.

Either way, his chances hinge on the same issue that has plagued many of his previous immigration cases: He will have to prove the plaintiffs have standing to sue by showing they have suffered credible, personal injury because of Obama’s executive action. He thinks Texas, with an estimated 1.7 million illegal immigrants, might be his best chance. “The numbers there are good for us,” he says. “Illegal-alien households with kids consume a lot of resources: K-through-12 education, food stamps, earned income tax — these things add up.”

He will likely have a few supporting attorneys with him on the case, but on this day in his Topeka office, he is managing the lawsuit alone. The questions come by e-mail from prospective plaintiffs, governor’s offices and think tanks in Washington: Who will pay the legal fees for the case? In which district will he file? How early in December? Are the plaintiffs ready to withstand the scrutiny of a case that is likely to unfold over two or three grueling years?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Noonan: The Nihilist in the White House - This administration doesn’t build, it divides and tears down. Vindication is assumed.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

There is an odd, magical-thinking element in the psychology of recent White Houses. It is now common for those within them to assume that history will declare their greatness down the road. They proceed as if this is automatic, guaranteed: They will leave someday, history will ponder their accomplishments and announce their genius.

The assumption of history’s inevitable vindication is sharper in the current White House, due to general conceit—they really do think they possess a higher wisdom and play a deeper game—and the expectation that liberal historians will write the history.

The illusion becomes a form of license. We don’t have to listen to critics, adversaries, worriers and warn-ers, we just have to force through our higher vision and let history say down the road we got it right.

They make this assumption because they don’t know much about history—they really are people who saw the movie but didn’t read the book—and because historical vindication is what happened so spectacularly in the case of Ronald Reagan. So it will happen to them, too.

Reagan had a hard, tough presidency during which his approval rating averaged around 53%. By the end of his presidency he was patronized—over, yesterday. His own people, I among them, made teasing fun of him; we all did imitations and laughed at his foibles. His was not a White House full of awed people. Even he wasn’t awed by him. How things change.

In the years after Reagan’s presidency his reputation experienced a reversal in public fortune. He came to be acknowledged as a truly great president. The fall of the Soviet Union was an epic moment in human history, the reigniting of the American economy brought a world of material and political implications, his ability to work with an often mean-minded Congress yielded something constructive, and even soothing, to the national psyche: Yes, things can still work.

And there was the liberating factor of his funeral in June 2004, which brought a great national outpouring. They thronged to Washington and slept on the street to say goodbye, in California they went to U.S. Highway 101 to stand and hold signs—“Thanks, Dutch”—and wave flags. Nancy Reagan told me she would never forget the Vietnam War vet who put on his old uniform and stood on the side of the road, saluting the motorcade as it passed.

The outpouring took the media aback, and changed the nature of their coverage. More important, seeing what was happening gave the American people a kind of permission to express what they’d long believed: This was a great man.

Now when Gallup lists its greatest and most admired presidents Ronald Reagan is up there with Lincoln.

A similar vindication happened with Harry Truman, though it took longer. The historian David McCullough rescued his reputation with a 1992 biography that indelibly captured Truman’s greatness—the Marshall Plan, the creation of an early, constructive strategy toward the Soviets, the bringing along, in all of this, of resistant congressional Republicans. Truman’s was not a perfect presidency, any more than Reagan’s—plenty of flaws and failures in both. But he was the last Democratic president Ronald Reagan campaigned for, in 1948, and the one he most loved to quote, devilishly but sincerely, as president.

Historical vindication happens. The Obama White House assumes it will happen to them. Thus they can do pretty much what they want.

What they forget is that facts largely decide what history thinks—outcomes, what happened, what it means. What they also forget, or perhaps never knew, is that the great ones are always constructive. They don’t divide and tear down. They build, gather in, create, bend, meld, and in so doing move things forward.

That’s not this crowd.

This White House seems driven—does it understand this?—by a kind of political nihilism. They agitate, aggravate, fray and separate.

Look at three great domestic issues just the past few weeks.

ObamaCare, whose very legitimacy was half killed by the lie that “If you like your plan, you can keep it,” and later by the incompetence of its implementation, has been done in now by the mindless, highhanded bragging of a technocrat who helped build it, and who amused himself the past few years explaining that the law’s passage was secured only by lies, and the lies were effective because the American people are stupid. Jonah Goldberg of National Review had a great point the other day: They build a thing so impenetrable, so deliberately impossible for any normal person to understand, and then they denigrate them behind their backs for not understanding.

I don’t know how ObamaCare will go, but it won’t last as it is. If the White House had wisdom, they’d declare that they’d won on the essential argument—health coverage is a right for all—and go back to the drawing board with Congress. The only part of the ObamaCare law that is popular is its intention, not its reality. The White House should declare victory and redraw the bill. But the White House is a wisdom-free zone.

The president’s executive action on immigration is an act of willful nihilism that he himself had argued against in the past. It is a sharp stick in the eye of the new congressional majority. It is at odds with—it defies—the meaning and message of the last election, and therefore is destructive to the reputation of democracy itself. It is huge in its impact but has only a sole cause, the president’s lone will. It damages the standing of our tottery political institutions rather than strengthening them, which is what they desperately need, and sets a template for future executive abuse. It will surely encourage increased illegal immigration and thus further erode the position of the American working class.

And there is the Keystone XL pipeline and the administration’s apparent intent to veto a bill that allows it. There the issue is not only the jobs the pipeline would create, and not only the infrastructure element. It is something more. If it is done right, the people who build the pipeline could be pressed to take on young men—skill-less, aimless—and get them learning, as part of a crew, how things are built and what it is to be a man who builds them.

On top of that, the building of the pipeline would show the world that America is capable of coming back, that we’re not only aware of our good fortune and engineering genius, we are pushing it hard into the future. America’s got her hard-hat on again. America is dynamic. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Not just this endless talk of limits, restrictions, fears and “Oh, we’re all going to melt in the warm global future!”

Which is sort of the spirit of this White House.

Great presidencies have a different one. They expand, move on, reach out.

The future acknowledgment of greatness only follows actual greatness. History takes the long view but in the end relies on facts.

“But history will be written by liberals.” Fair enough, and they will judge the president the more harshly because he failed to do anything that lasts. ObamaCare will be corrected and torn down piece by piece. The immigration order will be changed, slowed or undone by the courts, Congress or through executive actions down the road. Keystone will pass and a veto overridden.

And the president has failed liberals through unpopularity, which is another word for incompetence.

Almost half of the 114th Congress has been elected since 2010

From The Washington Post:

You can say a lot of things about the U.S. Congress. One thing you can't really say, though, is that they'v been in Washington way too long.

Come January, nearly half of Congress (48.8 percent) will have been in office for four years or less -- i.e. elected in 2010 or later. That includes 49.7 percent of the House and 45 percent of the Senate -- assuming GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy defeats Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana runoff Dec. 6.

Friday, November 21, 2014

This will not end pretty for Obama and future immigration reform: White House to focus enforcement resources on gang members, serious criminals and those who crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama announced Thursday that millions of illegal immigrants will gain protections from deportation, bypassing Congress and unleashing unpredictable political and economic forces.

The plan will give more than four million illegal immigrants the chance to apply for work permits and a temporary reprieve from deportation. People who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and are parents of citizens or legal permanent residents would be eligible to apply. The White House said nearly a million more could benefit through other new or expanded programs. The president also is narrowing the group of people who would be subject to deportation, in what the White House said was an effort to focus enforcement resources on gang members, serious criminals and those who crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014.

By giving work papers to millions of illegal workers, Mr. Obama’s plan could affect businesses in unexpected ways, enabling workers to seek new jobs and higher wages to the benefit of some business sectors more than others. Some in agriculture, for example, worried that affected workers would leave for other sectors.

A 1986 law, which offered legal status to nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants, had an almost immediate labor-market impact, with many low-wage workers moving to other jobs that pay better.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Immigration Has Republican Governors Seething and Facing Practical Challenges

From The New York Times:
BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama’s impending executive action on immigration is unleashing the fury of Republican governors who now control a clear majority of the nation’s statehouses — and not entirely for the reasons that partisans might expect.
The new legal protections that the president is poised to bestow on five million illegal immigrants Thursday will immediately thrust the issue back to the states, forcing dozens of governors who vigorously oppose the move to contemplate a raft of vexing new legal questions of their own, like whether to issue driver’s licenses or grant in-state college tuition to such people.
For Republican governors, the resentment is now as much operational as it is ideological.
The rapidly unfolding issue quickly overtook what was supposed to be a three-day victory lap here at a pink flamingo-colored resort where they have gathered for the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association.
Instead of crowing about their electoral romp in the midterms, in which they captured 31 statehouses — the most since 1998 — the governors on Wednesday were bombarded by inquiries about how they would grapple with the practical and political repercussions of Mr. Obama’s action.
Many of them seethed visibly over the issue. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas accused the president of “sticking his finger into the eye of the American people” after an election that gave Republicans control over both houses of Congress.
Several governors threatened legal action to block the measure. “I would go to the courts,” said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “This is illegal.”
Mr. Perry called a lawsuit against the Obama administration “a very real possibility.”
But amid the promises of retaliation and obstruction, many of the governors began to confront the sheer complexity of the new legal landscape for millions of their residents.
Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said that his Republican-controlled State Legislature would never stomach the concept of issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, even after Mr. Obama had given them worker permits and shielded them from deportation.
“That would be very difficult in our state,” he said.
For some of the governors, the issue took on a strikingly personal dimension. Gov. Paul R. LePage of Maine recalled the difficulty that he and his wife had encountered obtaining a green card for the Jamaican teenager they have taken into their home.
“It took us nearly 11 years,” he said. “Why should everybody just get one tomorrow?”
Asked if he would embrace greater legal standing for immigrants in Maine, such as worker permits, after Mr. Obama issues his measure, Mr. LePage swatted away the idea as “unacceptable.”
He then added, “I am fighting it, not helping it.”
For those weighing a presidential run in 2016, responding to Mr. Obama’s action requires some nimbleness: They must appeal to those conservatives who loathe Mr. Obama’s unilateral move without alienating Latino voters who crave a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.  
But here in Florida, before a crowd of devoted Republican donors and activists, the governors offered few of the compassionate overtures to Latino voters that have characterized their campaigns back at home or detailed alternatives to replace Mr. Obama’s action.
A number of those likely to run for president simply avoided offering direct or firm answers.
At one point, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana was asked if he supported deporting illegal immigrants. He demurred, saying that “we will deal with people here illegally compassionately and fairly” before calling for greater security at America’s borders, a message echoed by most of his colleagues.
As he has in the past, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey refused to specify a plan for dealing with illegal immigration, saying he would not articulate a plan until he had decided whether to run for president.
Going perhaps the furthest of any potential presidential candidate, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, when pressed on citizenship for undocumented people, said, “I’m open to it, I will tell you that.”
He added, “We have to think about what’s going to bring about healing.”
Both Mr. Jindal and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana suggested that Congress could use its budget authority to deprive the president of the money required to carry out his immigration action.
Mr. Pence, a former House member, encouraged Congress to “use the power of the purse to work the will of the American people.”
Normally restrained, Mr. Pence could barely contain his frustration.
“Every major change in the life of our nation has been done with the consent of our government,” he said. “I think it would be a profound mistake.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Push to Protect Immigrant Farm Workers - Backers See New Obama Policy as Last Chance to Change Immigration Rules for Some Time; The farm industry, however, is divided on the matter, with some worried that granting work permits would give workers the chance to move to other jobs rather than bolster the industry.

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—Farm workers and some agriculture industry officials are making a last-minute push for President Barack Obama to include protections for undocumented agricultural workers in his new immigration policy, worried that the pending executive action may be the last opportunity to change immigration rules for a while.

Their hope is that at least some farm workers can win the temporary legal status and work permits that are expected to be offered to several million people now in the country illegally, according to officials who are lobbying for the change.

The farm industry, however, is divided on the matter, with some worried that granting work permits would give workers the chance to move to other jobs rather than bolster the industry. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S.’s largest agricultural trade group, isn’t pushing for Mr. Obama to act without Congress, saying such a move would hurt the effort to pass more durable changes to the immigration system through laws.

Mr. Obama plans to announce his new policy this week, according to people close to the process. Republican lawmakers have promised to block his plans, saying Mr. Obama shouldn’t make policy changes unilaterally.

The push to include agriculture workers is being led by the United Farm Workers union and is backed by groups including the National Immigration Forum, which works with businesses that support liberalized immigration legislation. Officials say they haven’t been told whether the White House will include their requests in the final package.

“We want as many farm workers covered as possible,” said Giev Kashkooli, national political legislative director for the United Farm Workers. He said that could be accomplished both through general provisions that apply to a range of illegal immigrants and through special provisions for the industry.

Mr. Obama’s executive action is expected to help other industries, particularly high-tech companies, by making more visas available for high-skilled workers to enter the country legally.

A White House spokesman had no comment on details of the president’s plans. Mr. Obama has promised to put in place new immigration policies by year’s end, saying he has legal authority to do so and that Congress has declined to act.

The White House had considered waiting until Congress clears a spending bill that must be enacted by Dec. 11 to keep the government funded, an effort to avoid entangling immigration with the budget. But officials decided to move ahead this week, one person close to the process said.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans continued to sort through ways to unravel Mr. Obama’s plans. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said Tuesday that GOP leaders were considering a range of ideas.

Some conservatives have pressed to include a measure in the spending bill blocking funding for any executive action on immigration. But given that Mr. Obama would likely veto such a bill, that move raised the possibility that Republicans could be blamed for trying to provoke another partial shutdown of the government.

One option suggested by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) was to pass legislation funding the government through September, avoiding the possibility of a shutdown. Under this option, lawmakers later could bring up a separate measure rescinding funding for any programs Mr. Obama deploys if he acts on immigration on his own.

Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.), a member of the appropriations panel, said that approach would avoid any threat of shutting down the government “over something that doesn’t have anything to do with our budget.”

Mr. Obama’s package, say people close to White House deliberations, is expected to grant temporary legal status to several million people, likely parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have been in the U.S. for many years, among others. The farm groups involved are hoping that the definition will be broad enough to encompass a large number of farm workers, or that Mr. Obama will include targeted provisions for them.

An estimated 70% or more of agriculture workers are in the U.S. illegally, experts say. About 540,000 of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. either work in agriculture or have parents who do, according to data to be published online Wednesday by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

“We’ve been urging the administration to pay attention to the ag industry,” said Ali Noorani, who runs the National Immigration Forum, which has lobbied the White House to include provisions. “Growers are tired of their operations always being at risk of immigration enforcement.”

But others in the industry worry that giving farm workers the ability to work legally will prompt many to seek other jobs.

“Unless it includes incentives for people to continue to work in the ag force, it could hasten attrition,” said Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, which includes industry associations and farmers.

Kristi Boswell of the American Farm Bureau Federation said her group is also not pushing for executive action, partly because she fears it would hurt the legislative effort. “Any action taken by the president would be temporary by nature and not give us that long-term stability we truly need in the industry,” she said.

A missed opportunity to pick your battles: Democrats remain in denial & Obama in your face on a chance to help someone whose support for him contributed to her defeat. - Keystone goes down in Senate by narrow margin

From The Washington Post:

In a dramatic vote, the Senate rejected a controversial new energy pipeline Tuesday evening, dealing a serious blow to the re-election prospects of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and leaving Republicans itching for a fight next year on the issue.

On a 59 to 41 vote, Landrieu lost her bid to pass legislation meant to compel the Obama White House to approve the nearly 1,700-mile, $7.6 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which if built would deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada into the American heartland.

Already six years in the making, the Keystone fight has become the rallying cry for Landrieu, a three-term senator facing a run-off election Dec. 6. For the past week she has placed a political bet on her ability to pass the legislation as a demonstration of her clout in the Senate.

Supporters said the new pipeline would lead to a more efficient delivery of oil into the domestic markets, helping boost the national economy by creating tens of thousands of jobs along the construction of the pipeline. Opponents said that the project would be harvesting oil from the environmentally dirty tar sands in Canada, leading to too many health risks and coming at a time when other domestic oil production has already shrunk gas prices to less than $3 a gallon in many regions.

“This is for Americans, for an American middle class,” Landrieu pleaded Tuesday evening, moments before the roll was called, arguing that jobs would go to rural American communities struggling in the economic recovery. “The time to act is now.”

It became Landrieu’s last-gasp attempt to demonstrate her clout to voters back home, where oil and gas exploration is the biggest industry and where Democrats are increasingly on the defensive. She ran the general election campaign boasting of her chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a gavel that she predicted would lead to tangible results for Louisiana.

But she received just 42 percent of the initial vote, as remaining ballots were splintered among the Republicans, making her the underdog against Rep. Bill Cassidy (La.), the top Republican vote-getter, in the runoff election next month. Even worse: the Democratic collapse across the nation left the party in the minority next year and took away her main argument for votes by leaving her without a chairman’s gavel even if she were to win reelection.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), after years of tangling the chamber in knots when it came to the pipeline debate, relented to Landrieu last week and allowed for Tuesday’s debate and vote even though he remains opposed to the measure, and wants Obama to veto it.

This particular branch of oil pipeline does not actually make its way to the Louisiana ports. A different portion of that pipeline has been finished and runs from Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, on the border with Louisiana. This proposed pipeline would run from western Canada down through the northern portion of the nation to Nebraska.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Loneliest President Since Nixon - Facing adversity, Obama has no idea how to respond.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Seven years ago I was talking to a longtime Democratic operative on Capitol Hill about a politician who was in trouble. The pol was likely finished, he said. I was surprised. Can’t he change things and dig himself out? No. “People do what they know how to do.” Politicians don’t have a vast repertoire. When they get in a jam they just do what they’ve always done, even if it’s not working anymore.

This came to mind when contemplating President Obama. After a devastating election, he is presenting himself as if he won. The people were not saying no to his policies, he explained, they would in fact like it if Republicans do what he tells them.

You don’t begin a new relationship with a threat, but that is what he gave Congress: Get me an immigration bill I like or I’ll change U.S. immigration law on my own.

Mr. Obama is doing what he knows how to do—stare them down and face them off. But his circumstances have changed. He used to be a conquering hero, now he’s not. On the other hand he used to have to worry about public support. Now, with no more elections before him, he has the special power of the man who doesn’t care.

I have never seen a president in exactly the position Mr. Obama is, which is essentially alone. He’s got no one with him now. The Republicans don’t like him, for reasons both usual and particular: They have had no good experiences with him. The Democrats don’t like him, for their own reasons plus the election loss. Before his post-election lunch with congressional leaders, he told the press that he will judiciously consider any legislation, whoever sends it to him, Republicans or Democrats. His words implied that in this he was less partisan and more public-spirited than the hacks arrayed around him. It is for these grace notes that he is loved. No one at the table looked at him with colder, beadier eyes than outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , who clearly doesn’t like him at all.

The press doesn’t especially like the president; in conversation they evince no residual warmth. This week at the Beijing summit there was no sign the leaders of the world had any particular regard for him. They can read election returns. They respect power and see it leaking out of him. If Mr. Obama had won the election they would have faked respect and affection.

Vladimir Putin delivered the unkindest cut, patting Mr. Obama’s shoulder reassuringly. Normally that’s Mr. Obama’s move, putting his hand on your back or shoulder as if to bestow gracious encouragement, needy little shrimp that you are. It’s a dominance move. He’s been doing it six years. This time it was Mr. Putin doing it to him. The president didn’t like it.

From Reuters: “‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ Putin was overheard saying in English in Obama’s general direction, referring to the ornate conference room. ‘Yes,’ Obama replied, coldly, according to journalists who witnessed the scene.”

The last time we saw a president so alone it was Richard Nixon, at the end of his presidency, when the Democrats had turned on him, the press hated him, and the Republicans were fleeing. It was Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s standard-bearer in 1964, and House Minority Leader John Rhodes, also of Arizona, who went to the White House to tell Nixon his support in Congress had collapsed, they would vote to impeach. Years later Goldwater called Nixon “The world’s biggest liar.”

But Nixon had one advantage Obama does not: the high regard of the world’s leaders, who found his downfall tragic (such ruin over such a trifling matter) and befuddling (he didn’t keep political prisoners chained up in dungeons, as they did. Why such a fuss?).

Nixon’s isolation didn’t end well.

Last Sunday Mr. Obama, in an interview with CBS ’s Bob Schieffer, spoke of his motivation, how he’s always for the little guy. “I love just being with the American people. . . . You know how passionate I am about trying to help them.” He said what is important is “a guy who’s lost his job or lost his home or . . . is trying to send a kid to college.” When he talks like that, as he does a lot, you get the impression his romantic vision of himself is Tom Joad in the movie version of “The Grapes of Wrath.” “I’ll be all around . . . wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.”

I mentioned last week that the president has taken to filibustering, to long, rambling answers in planned sit-down settings—no questions on the fly walking from here to there, as other presidents have always faced. The press generally allows him to ramble on, rarely fighting back as they did with Nixon. But I have noticed Mr. Obama uses a lot of words as padding. He always has, but now he does it more. There’s a sense of indirection and obfuscation. You can say, “I love you,” or you can say, “You know, feelings will develop, that happens among humans and it’s good it happens, and I have always said, and I said it again just last week, that you are a good friend, I care about you, and it’s fair to say in terms of emotional responses that mine has escalated or increased somewhat, and ‘love’ would not be a wholly inappropriate word to use to describe where I’m coming from.”

When politicians do this they’re trying to mush words up so nothing breaks through. They’re leaving you dazed and trying to make it harder for you to understand what’s truly being said.

It is possible the president is responding to changed circumstances with a certain rigidity because no one ever stood in his way before. Most of his adult life has been a smooth glide. He had family challenges and an unusual childhood, but as an adult and a professional he never faced fierce, concentrated resistance. He was always magic. Life never came in and gave it to him hard on the jaw. So he really doesn’t know how to get up from the mat. He doesn’t know how to struggle to his feet and regain his balance. He only knows how to throw punches. But you can’t punch from the mat.

He only knows how to do what he’s doing.

In the meantime he is killing his party. Gallup this week found that the Republicans for the first time in three years beat the Democrats on favorability, and also that respondents would rather have Congress lead the White House than the White House lead Congress.

A few weeks ago a conservative intellectual asked me: “How are we going to get through the next two years?” It was a rhetorical question; he was just sharing his anxiety. We have a president who actually can’t work with Congress, operating in a capital in which he is resented and disliked and a world increasingly unimpressed by him, and so increasingly predatory.

Anyway, for those who are young and not sure if what they are seeing is wholly unusual: Yes, it is wholly unusual.

The coming clash over immigration is reflective of past conflicts - In a presidency marked by a series of high-profile confrontations, Obama and the Republicans are now on the brink of another seismic clash. Neither side can afford a major miscalculation.

Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post:

The scars from six years of political conflict between President Obama and Republican congressional leaders have quickly washed away all those gauzy comments about cooperation that were offered in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Today, Washington is bracing for a major collision over immigration, with each side calculating the risks and rewards of their actions.

Obama has insisted that he will take executive action by the end of the year to protect millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation. Republicans are just as insistent that he will pay a big price if he goes ahead with what they regard as executive amnesty. GOP elected officials are now talking about shutting down the government or using other short-term budgetary measures to retaliate.

Obama’s determination to move ahead in the face of a substantial election defeat for his party is more than just a red flag to Republicans. Even some Democrats are nervous about how unilateral action on such a contentious issue will shape the opening stages of the relationship between the White House and a Congress that will be fully controlled by the Republicans and how badly the fallout from his moves could hurt the president and the party’s congressional wing.

Obama clearly sees it differently. He sees a clock ticking on his presidency, with little time left to burnish what he hopes will eventually be seen as a tenure that accomplished big things, from health care to climate change to immigration.

He and his advisers also see little prospect for legislative action on major issues, post-election comments notwithstanding, which suggests they believe there is more to be gained than lost by moving forward. White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri put it this way on Friday: “The principle for us is you can’t let that [GOP opposition] hold you back on solving other problems. You can’t tie up your whole agenda to how Congress is going to react.”

That conclusion is just the latest reminder that while elections may have consequences, they don’t necessarily change behavior. At the White House, the experience of the past six years — how elections have or have not changed working relationships with Republicans — has heavily influenced their assessment of this moment.

Previous disappointment

Neither victory for Obama nor victory by the GOP has materially changed the frosty relations between the White House and congressional Republicans. In every case, White House officials initially overestimated the prospects for cross-party cooperation.

It happened first after Obama’s 2008 victory, when Obama’s team assumed that goodwill toward the new president and widespread fears about the deepening recession would bring the two sides together to deal with the economy.

Ultimately, the GOP’s implacable opposition to the president’s stimulus package, followed by the huge partisan fight over health care, set the tone for Obama’s first two years in office — a period marked both by major achievements and deepening hostility.

Each side now has its talking points down about who should be blamed for the lack of cooperation.

After the huge Republican victory in the 2010 midterm elections, another opportunity for a change in the relationship came and went. Then, as now, Obama flew off to Asia days after his party’s shellacking for a long foreign trip. He returned for one of the most productive lame duck sessions of Congress in memory, one that included both compromise and confrontation with the Republicans.

That lame-duck session made Obama believe that he and the new Republican-controlled House might be able to do business on some big fiscal issues in the coming year. By the summer of 2011, after the debacle over the debt ceiling, all hope for cooperation had evaporated, and Obama’s presidency hit another low point.

At that point, the president gave up on working with Congress and vowed to take his fight to the country in 2012. He believed that by winning a second term he would put some momentum behind his agenda and force some accommodation by Republicans. Instead, there was, with some wrinkles, a repeat of the earlier patterns of confrontation and inaction.

Now, after another crushing midterm defeat for the Democrats, there are minimal expectations at the White House about getting things done through Congress and next-to-zero hopes on immigration. Past history and the urgency of not waiting have shaped those calculations about the consequences of defying the Republicans by going ahead on immigration.

In the days after Republicans won control of the Senate and scored major victories in gubernatorial and state legislative races, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John A. Boehner and the president all said they heard the same message — that voters were sick of dysfunction and lack of cooperation in Washington, that they wanted the two sides to work together and wanted to see results.

What’s crucial is how Obama’s team reads both parts of that message from the voters, and as Obama put it the day after the election, those who did not vote. Obama advisers believe what counts most with people are results, not arms linked with Republican leaders in photo ops. “Our view is the outcome is more important than the process,” Palmieri said.

Political consequences

There are raw political considerations for both sides as this showdown nears. Obama’s willingness to widen the already huge gulf between the White House and congressional Republicans underscores once again that he sees his coalition — the “rising America” of younger people, minorities, unmarried women and college-educated whites — as fully receptive to where he wants to take the country and politically beneficial to the Democrats in future national elections.

In the face of his midterm defeat, Obama has moved aggressively on several issues likely to win favor with that coalition, from the pact with China to reduce greenhouse gases that has drawn Republican opposition, to net neutrality, to the threat of a veto on legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

However, much of his actions risk backlash from certain parts of the electorate. Obama shows no sign that he believes those voters will be coming back into the Democratic fold and that public opinion broadly is on his side on both immigration and climate change.

Republicans have their own political considerations. The day after the midterms, McConnell said that in the next Congress there would be no government shutdowns and no default on the debt. Anticipating Obama’s next move, Republicans are measuring how close to that cliff they can go as they brand him an imperial president who is disregarding the Constitution.

If Obama feels pressure from his coalition to move now on immigration, Republicans must weigh the longer-term political consequences of opposing what Obama is planning.

What signals will they send to Hispanic voters and others who support some kind of legal status for undocumented immigrants if they vow to undo what he may do? Will this confrontation shape the 2016 presidential nominating contest in the way that phrases like self-deportation shaped perceptions of the GOP in 2012?

In a presidency marked by a series of high-profile confrontations, Obama and the Republicans are now on the brink of another seismic clash. Neither side can afford a major miscalculation.