Now that Republicans have swept Democrats completely out of power in Congress, will President Obama still go through with his long-promised executive order to legalize a sizable chunk of the nation's undocumented immigrants?
GOP leaders are warning him not to in the starkest of terms. "When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path," Speaker John Boehner told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday, in his first press conference since the election. The speaker said a unilateral move by the president after the voters rebuked him on Tuesday would "poison the well" with Republicans, and "there will be no chance of immigration reform moving in this Congress. It’s as simple as that."
A day earlier, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said much the same thing, equating executive action on immigration to "waving a red flag in front of a bull."
It's a lot of sound and fury, but it probably won't change the mind of a president who has been waiting for House Republicans to act on immigration reform for nearly two years. Boehner can't do any less on the issue than he's already done, and few in Washington gave much chance to an overhaul passing under Republican rule in 2015 anyway.
Obama is facing equal pressure on the left from Hispanic activists who seethed when he broke his initial promise to take action before the election and pushed back his deadline to the end of the year. Representative Luis Gutierrez, who has relished his role as a thorn in Obama's side for the last six years, warned of a civil war in the party if the president didn't act, telling him to "be a Democrat."
Perhaps a more legitimate worry for the president is that beyond killing the slim-to-none prospects for congressional action on immigration, he would extinguish the hopes for bipartisan cooperation with the new Republican Congress on other issues. Well, those are limited to begin with, and as McConnell made clear with his remarks on Wednesday, Republicans need to get legislation signed by the president to advance their political interests, not his.
It's also not as if Republicans are trying to avoid confrontation with Obama either. During the same press conference in which he warned the president against acting on immigration, Boehner said the House would vote again next year to repeal the entirety of his healthcare law, knowing full well it's a bill he won't sign.
So much for not poisoning the well.