The President will deliver a speech at the Texas border tomorrow making the case for comprehensive immigration reform. In the speech, the President will lay out the steps he’s already taken to secure the border, crack down on hiring of undocumented immigrants, and step up deportations. Now, he’ll say, a permanent solution for the millions of people in the country illegally must be undertaken.

I’m not certain that so many families had to be broken up to pave the way for reform. And anyway, in the process, the Democrats lost the House, so the idea that this Congress will segue into a comprehensive reform bill doesn’t track. So here’s the plan from the President on how to make this work:

He will also argue that those who care about this issue need to step up pressure on Congress to act, a point he has made privately in a string of meetings with business executives, evangelical leaders and Hispanic celebrities.

Some advocates of an immigration bill aren’t on board the White House’s new push. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) said Friday that he won’t raise expectation in the Latino community that immigration legislation will pass when it won’t.

“The moment to use pressure is gone,” he said. “I’m not going to be disingenuous with the public…It’s not going to happen.” […]

But White House officials say that their chances for any sort of legislation are small without outside pressure. “If we do this well, you will be hearing a greater sense of urgency from the people that [the president] has been talking to,” said one administration official.

A few things here. First of all, Gutierrez is right. This is a 2012 ploy and a cynical one at that, to suggest that a few rallies will flip Republicans with longstanding beliefs and activists of their own on the other side of the issue. Second, it’s not like immigrant rights groups didn’t try all of this before. I remember undocumented students getting arrested for sit-ins at Congressional offices during the DREAM Act debate last year. And I don’t remember them getting a lot of support from the President on that.

But what leaps out at me is this call for “outside pressure” from the White House to pass a favored piece of the agenda. This is certainly a new concept! After all, the White House threatened to expel MoveOn from their Common Purpose meetings if they pressured Blue Dogs into voting for health care. I believe the phrase thrown around was “fucking retarded.” In fact, during the health care debate practically all of these outside pressure moves were frowned upon. But now that we’re back in election season, change begins from the bottom up again.

Only this is completely backwards. Progressive organizations have leverage over, or at least an audience with, Democratic lawmakers. They certainly have a greater audience there than over Republicans. The time to use outside pressure is when Democrats are the ones holding up the agenda. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the House Judiciary Committee chair, will not be moved by outside forces. The 218th Democratic vote last year? Maybe. And the same goes in the Senate.

I’m not opposed to the concept of outside pressure generally. It should be a perpetual movement to force politicians in the right direction. Who knows, maybe it will work. But it’s curious how the White House just got their religion on the subject.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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