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Fri Jun 15, 2012, 07:01 PM

Friday Talking Points (214) -- Rubio Talks, Obama Acts

Marco Rubio's chances of becoming Mitt Romney's running mate just got a little worse. Granted, he is still a senator from Florida -- the biggest prize among the "battleground" states this November. But Rubio's signature issue was just completely and brilliantly co-opted by President Obama, which tends to significantly lessen Rubio's value to Romney as a vice presidential choice.

Obama today announced that a large chunk of the "DREAMers" would be allowed to stay in America, and even given work papers (or "green" cards, even though they haven't actually been green for years). The original Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (or "DREAM Act" proposed by Democrats would have gone further than what Obama announced today, and given children brought to this country as minors who entered college or the military a "path to citizenship." Obama announced today that illegal immigrant young people will not be given a chance to walk this path quite yet, but will be able to legalize their status and live free of the fear of being deported to a country many of them do not even remember. Obama's action today is not a complete answer to the thorny problem of illegal immigration, but it is a step towards a comprehensive solution -- and a step in the right direction.

Where Marco Rubio fits into all this is an interesting example of the tightrope Republicans have been walking on the immigration issue for the past ten or twenty years. The Republicans refused to allow the original Democratic DREAM Act to pass Congress. When the Republicans took the House in 2010, it was pretty much seen as a dead issue. In the same election, Marco Rubio, son of Cuban-American immigrants, won a Senate seat in Florida. Seen as a rising star within the Republican Party, and one of its few Latino up-and-comers, Rubio made news when he decided to get out in front of the DREAM Act issue. Attempting to soften his party's rhetoric and political stance on illegal immigration, Rubio proposed a watered-down version of the DREAM Act, which would not provide any sort of path to citizenship. Even before he put forth this idea, he was already being talked about as possible veep material in Republican circles. Rubio's version of the DREAM Act was a big enticement for establishment Republicans who can read a demographic map and are worried about their future prospects if they lose the Latino vote forever.

The House Republicans, however, didn't see things this way at all. They let it be known that even Rubio's version of the DREAM Act was still a dead-on-arrival bill in their chamber (with gratuitous use of the word "amnesty," naturally). Mitt Romney, the party's frontrunner, waffled on the whole DREAM Act question -- saying he wouldn't sign the Democratic version as president, and expressing limited support for the idea that young people who serve in the military might be given some sort of consideration. Romney was, to be blunt, painted into a corner of his own creation. During the primary season, Romney had moved far, far to the right on the immigration question (including suggesting that all illegal immigrants "self-deport" themselves), and thus if Romney appreciably changed his position now he would be seen as even more of an "Etch A Sketch" guy than ever.

Marco Rubio, smartly, never actually drew up a bill. He left his concept vague, which reduced his exposure to his own party's hard-liners in the House, and made it easier for Romney to be similarly vague in his limited support for Rubio's idea. Inside the Beltway, many were betting that Rubio's plan would never actually see the light of day as a piece of legislation, for precisely these reasons. Rubio's plan was an asset, in the abstract, but once it became concrete it would have been picked apart by his own party.

Which left the big opening that Barack Obama just strode through. Rubio may have enjoyed talking a good game on his DREAM Act (which remained but a nebulous daydream within his own head), but now Obama has made his own version a reality, by one stroke of the executive pen. Since Rubio never let anyone know the concrete details of his plan it is impossible to say with any sort of precision, but given what vague talk there was about his plan, it seems that what President Obama just did co-opts pretty much everything Rubio was proposing to do, in one fell swoop.

In other words, Rubio talks while Obama acts.


OK, this is pretty far inside the Beltway here, but the hilarity value is off the charts, so here we go. An Honorable Mention goes out to the "One Hitters" -- the softball team for the medical marijuana lobby -- who beat the White House softball team this week by the brutal score of 25-3. We mention this so you can suggest your own headline, in the comments. The Washington Post went with "White House softball team smoked by pot lobby's bats," which isn't bad, but there are far better creative ways to go, we'd bet. Perhaps "White House crushed, twisted up, and blunted by pot lobby's bats," for example? Anyway, we look forward to your ideas. No drug tests will be required for entry. Ahem.

In an entirely different direction, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is standing up for herself in a way Democrats don't normally even attempt. Senator Jeff Sessions tried last week to massively cut food stamps. Fair enough, it's what Republicans do, after all. But he had the temerity to rip into Gillibrand, when she tried to denounce the cuts. Sessions asked, on the floor of the Senate: "Is that a moral vision for the United States of America, just to see how many people we can place in a situation where they're dependent on the federal government for their food?" This is normally the point -- where morality is interjected into politics by Republicans -- that Democrats crumble into a spineless blob of jelly. Gillibrand did not. She answered back with: "In Matthew 25, the first question Christ asks on Judgment Day is, 'Did you feed the poor?' It's unacceptable that we have Republican advocates who are saying it's immoral to support food stamps."

Well done, Senator! It's simply amazing how many supposedly-Christian Republicans have seemingly skipped over all the parts in the Bible where Jesus talks about the poor, and it is a point that Democrats should have made long ago. For doing so in such elegant fashion this week, Kirsten Gillibrand is awarded her own Honorable Mention this week.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award was won hands-down by Barack Obama's late entry on immigration reform. Now, some might quibble that it's really really late for Obama to have acted. This is a good point. But act he did, and he did act boldly. The rest of this column explains why, so we're not going to harp on it again here, but President Obama has more than earned this week's MIDOTW award for wielding the executive pen in such a dramatic fashion. Political? Oh, surely. Election-year pandering? Probably, to some extent. We simply don't care, though. It's a step in the right direction, it's a step long overdue, and it's the right thing to do no matter how politics enters into it. Obama, long about last summer, gave up on compromising with congressional Republicans and ever since has been exploring ways to use methods available to him which don't require congressional action. Today's move is one of the more dramatic Obama has taken in this direction.

So whatever the quibbles exist on the sidelines, we're absolutely convinced that President Obama was the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Well done, Mister President.

{Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}


I hesitate to even mention this first one, mostly because it doesn't seem the Romney camp has picked up on it yet. There was a little non-story earlier this week, when Barack Obama visited a restaurant and left without paying the check. This error was soon rectified once it was discovered, but the problem for Obama is that it does take the punch out of a line he's been using to great effect on the campaign trail. Obama has taken to using a metaphor to describe the economic situation he was left with when he came into office and the subsequent complaints from Republicans on budgetary matters. The metaphor's a good one and takes some form of the following: "We all sat down to eat at a restaurant and then the Republicans skipped out on the bill -- and now they're the ones saying 'who ordered all these steaks and martinis?' " You can immediately see the problem. Obama's metaphor briefly became Obama's reality, and not in any sort of way that helps him. For this gaffe, we award a (Dis-)Honorable Mention to whatever staffer was supposed to be responsible for paying for the meal. Your lapse may have made it a lot harder for Obama to ever use this metaphor again (although maybe not, since as I said both the media and the Romney camp seem to have decided to take a pass on this story).

Minor transgressions aside, the winner of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week is House member Peter DeFazio of Oregon. In a debate over transportation and infrastructure spending, DeFazio decided it would be a good idea to ask (possibly of Republican Paul Broun personally, and possibly, as DeFazio later claimed, of the whole Republican Party): "Why do you hate this country so much?"

When asked about the statement later by Politico, DeFazio doubled down on his statement:

I'm tired of their {Republicans'} craziness, and we just need to push back with rhetoric that is as tough as theirs. I meant what I said. Why do they hate the country so much that they don't want to make those needed investments to put millions of people to work? It's just that they hate Obama so much they want the economy to fail. That's all I can figure out. Either that or they're just nuts. One or the other and I said both those things. And I stand by it.

Now this may seem a reasonable statement to Democratic partisans. It seems to many rank-and-file Democrats that Republicans do, in fact, hate President Obama. But we have to strongly disagree on DeFazio crossing this line.

"But Chris," you may say, "you do similar things here each week, and offer up scathing denouncements of Republicans as a matter of course." Well, that's true. I certainly understand DeFazio's reasoning.

But consider for a moment how Democrats felt when their patriotism was questioned in the entire Iraq War and post-9/11 era. It happened far too frequently, and was sometimes direct and sometimes hidden. Republicans regularly and repeatedly flung the charge that Democrats were somehow not patriotic enough for supporting this policy or that.

They were wrong to do so, and DeFazio is wrong to make the same assumption now -- that a Republican (or Republicans in general) "hate this country" for not supporting a transportation bill. There are several terms for this sort of thing, and they are all quite ugly: jingoism, witch-hunting, and McCarthyism spring immediately to mind.

Democrats: be consistent. If you denounced questions of your patriotism from Republicans in years past, then you simply cannot stand idly by and not denounce such accusations when one of your own does it. Even accusing a political opponent of hating President Obama is one thing. But accusations of hating America are simply a bridge too far, in our opinion.

For crossing this line, Pete DeFazio is this week's winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

{Contact Representative Peter DeFazio on his House contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

[center]Volume 214 (6/15/12)[/center]

There were all sorts of things which were worth talking about this week, but Obama's announcement this morning pretty much pre-empted all of it, which resulted in today's one-subject column. Oh, and I should mention that I returned from the Netroots Nation conference early this week, which is why there was no FTP column last week.

As always, the following talking points are offered up to both politicos being interviewed on television this week as well as to Democrats everywhere who want a few snappy lines to use in political discussions around the water cooler, backyard barbeque, or the like.

Obama's leadership

Get the word "leadership" in there when mentioning the president, as often as possible.

"President Obama continues to show leadership on issues such as the DREAM Act. When the rest of the government is hopelessly gridlocked on the important issues America faces, it is good to see Obama taking a stand and achieving what he can on his own. This is a major policy change that will affect hundreds of thousands of young people in America, and without the president showing such leadership it may have been years before they saw any congressional action. Whether you agree or disagree with what President Obama just did -- and I do agree, myself -- you've got to at least admit it showed real leadership."

We welcome the discussion

The Republicans really would prefer not to be talking about immigration at all. Many of them have figured out that, much like the gay marriage issue, they are not only losing public support but that being on the wrong side is going to hurt them for years to come. So be helpful, and point this out, every chance you get.

"Democrats welcome the discussion on immigration. Republicans have adopted such a hard line on the position that it now seems that anything anyone proposes to change the current situation is immediately labeled 'amnesty' by the Republican Party. They seem to have forgotten that real amnesty was signed into law by one of their heroes, Ronald Reagan. Putting that aside, however, Democrats have shown over and over again that we are open to any reasonable ideas on the immigration issue, no matter where they come from. Republicans seem to be in a race to see how nasty they can be towards anyone -- even a member of their own party -- who proposes such an idea. It's like Republicans actually want to drive Latino voters away from their party. But even in the face of such overreactions and denunciations, Democrats are still ready to have a sane and adult conversation on immigration at any time whatsoever."

Where's your bill, Marco?

OK, this one is just a taunt, plain and simple. This one, ideally, would be best used by a Democrat being interviewed on the same show as Senator Rubio.

"Senator Marco Rubio seems a bit peeved that President Obama just co-opted his idea. This shows, once again, how Republicans are ideologically pure in one regard: anything Obama is for, they're against. Even if what Obama's for was what they were proposing the day before. They're still against it if Obama's for it. This is ridiculous, but it is also a well-established fact. Senator Rubio can whine all he wants about getting everything he was proposing, but the simple fact remains that Rubio could have actually shown some leadership, but instead he chose to do nothing more than sheer political grandstanding on the issue. He refused to actually write a bill so everyone could see the details of his plan, he is now annoyed that President Obama is going to get credit for making his plan a reality, and he is serving up a large heaping of sour grapes to any reporter in earshot. Well, you know what, Senator? You could have had this spotlight. You could have led. You could have gotten your bill through the Senate and then convinced the extremists in your own party to get it through the House of Representatives. You had plenty of time to do so. You did not. You knew that doing so was quite simply beyond your capabilities as a party leader. You're mad that the president just enacted your bill? What bill? Where is your bill, Marco? We've been waiting for months and months, and you couldn't be bothered to even write your ideas into an actual bill. That is the difference between talk and action, and the difference between leadership and grandstanding."

Obama had to act

It's still very early, but the dominant message from the Republicans seems to so far be "Obama should have waited until Congress acted." This talking point likely will not last long, because it is so pathetically easy to shoot down, so look for a rhetorical shift from the Republicans, once they get a chance to huddle and regroup. For now, have at it.

"Republican reaction to Obama's bold leadership so far seems to be that Obama should have allowed Congress time to act, and to place a bill on his desk for signature. Well, you know what? We've waited long enough. Congress is not going to act. If they had the slightest inclination to act, they would have done so before now. The DREAM Act has been around for over a decade, and it was passed in the House and then failed in the Senate because Republican cosponsors of the legislation refused to vote for their own bill. Marco Rubio put forth the ideas that President Obama just made reality and although he's had half a year, he has not bothered to write it into legislation. He knows that the minute he does so, he will be the recipient of a boatload of scorn from the extremist Republicans who are running the House of Representatives. This is the political reality in Congress. Republicans have indicated over and over again that they will never vote for any bill which improves our immigration system in any way, shape, or form, and it is sheer lunacy to think that they would have done so before the November election. The president acted because Congress did not. The Republicans are now saying that Latinos should have been content to wait another decade or two before Congress managed to address the issue. This is precisely why the president just acted."

Latino voters

These two words strike fear into the hearts of Republicans who see entire states shifting solidly blue as a direct result of their demonizing Latinos. Not all Republicans can see this, but for the ones who can it must keep them awake at night, worrying about the future of their party.

"Why any Latino would ever vote for a Republican candidate is simply beyond me. The Republican Party keeps proving over and over again that it would much prefer to use Latinos as scapegoats in order to shore up the nativist GOP base, rather than even attempting to reach out to the fastest-growing demographic group of voters in this country. Whenever a brave Republican stands up and offers any sort of compromise on the immigration issue, he or she is immediately shot down by the rest of the Republican Party. When George W. Bush pushed for immigration reform, he had a Republican House and a Republican Senate. They decided that their own president wasn't radical enough for them, and they killed his initiative. That, it seems, was the last chance for the Republican Party to show the Latino community that 'compassionate conservatism' even existed. I would say to every Latino voter out there who may be undecided as to which party to support at the polls this year -- take a good look at what Republicans and Democrats are saying in response to President Obama's bold leadership in the next few weeks. Take a good look at who addresses the concerns of you, your family, and your neighbors -- and who does not."

The sins of the father

This is the core fairness issue which may be all but lost in the political chatter. Most Americans -- even those generally against true amnesty for illegal immigrants -- would hesitate to punish a person for something which happened when they were a baby. People who are not even citizens who serve in the American military are also pretty sympathetic figures -- putting their lives on the line for a country which hasn't even admitted them legally. So make a moral case for what Obama just did.

"In Old Testament times, the sins of the fathers were paid for by their sons. In more modern times, this is considered excessive punishment. How can anybody call a young man or woman a 'criminal' for something which may have happened when they were a babe in arms? Children brought here by their families before the age of majority likely had no choice in the matter at all. What was their alternative? Stay behind in their country of birth and fend for themselves? At age five, or seven? These children came here through no fault of their own -- unless you want to call following their family a 'fault,' which I cannot. They kept their noses clean -- Obama's new rules specifically bar people with serious criminal records from taking advantage of the program. They followed the law, in other words, after the initial transgression of following their mothers and fathers. They worked hard -- the only ones eligible are those who have completed their schooling successfully. To put this another way, they are precisely the type of people America should welcome as immigrants -- upstanding, hard-working, and successful. We should not visit the sins of the father on the child. America is better than that."

Mitt's self-deportation

Of course, this one will need refinement once Mitt decides which way to jump. He'll be on the CBS Sunday morning political chatfest with Bob Schieffer, so we only have a few days to wait. He has weaseled out of directly answering many questions on immigration so far, but my guess is that Bob isn't going to let him get away with being wishy-washy this time. Until then, hit Mitt every chance you get.

"Mitt Romney is simply out of touch on the issue of immigration. This comes as no surprise, since his entire party seems to be in a rush towards a very hard-line extremist position. In the Republican primaries, we heard talk from various Republicans about magic electronic border fences and -- you can't make this stuff up -- even moats filled with alligators. Mitt Romney's contribution towards this debate was the suggestion that eleven million illegal immigrants in this country would suddenly 'self-deport' themselves back to their countries of origin. That's the Republican answer for you in a nutshell. Of course, everyone just assumed that Mitt was pandering to his base (as he's done on so many subjects), but such pandering can come back to bite you. Now, Romney faces the choice of supporting President Obama in an idea that one of the top contenders for Romney's running mate came up with, or denouncing the idea as amnesty. If he chooses the former, his own base will howl that he's flip-flopped once again. If Romney continues to pander to his party's base, however, he can kiss quite a few states goodbye in the Electoral College. I don't envy him the choice, but it is one of his -- and his own party's -- making. Good luck threading that needle, Mitt."

[center]Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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