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On immigration, Obama should pause on executive order

The Detroit News

President Barack Obama should take a long pause before going nuclear on Congress. Bypassing lawmakers to enact sweeping immigration reform will all but guarantee that in the final two years of his term, the gridlock in Washington with which he claims to be so frustrated will be cemented in place.

The president's in-your-face response to Republican triumphs in the mid-term elections invites a similar reaction from the GOP, which in January will be in control of both the House and Senate.

Nothing will get done in the Capitol but the shouting.

Obama himself declared that his policies were on the ballot on Nov. 4, and the Democratic backers of those policies were rejected wholesale by voters.

Even if the president chooses not to view the election results as a repudiation of his agenda, he must see the public is fed up with the inability of its national leaders to come together on any issue.

Beginning his post-election relationship with Congress by taking another giant step in his already aggressive march to expand executive powers at the expense of the legislative branch is more about political machismo than addressing an urgent national crisis.

Immigration reform has been on the to-do list since Obama took office.

He failed to address it in his first two years, during brief portions of which Democrats held a filibuster-proof grip on the Senate, and has mostly allowed it to linger for the next four, using it as a wedge issue against Republicans with Hispanic voters.

Suddenly, however, it is the president's most urgent priority, so much so that he is expected to act as early this week to provide some sort of legal status to up to 5 million immigrants here illegally who are in little danger at the moment of being deported.

He is justifying his action by Congress' inaction. But a new Senate will be seated in January, with new members, both Republican and Democratic, who may see the advantage in conciliatory policy making.

Why not give these new members a chance to establish a path toward cooperation?

Setting aside whether the president has the constitutional authority to issue an executive order that encroaches so greatly on Congress' lawmaking powers — and there are credible arguments to be made for and against — the move is unnecessarily provocative.

More political gamesmanship is not what America needs.

Obama should at least attempt a fresh start with Congress.

There are issues on which they can find common ground — including expanding foreign trade pacts — that could set the precedent for tackling tougher challenges.

Another example is the Keystone XL pipeline. Senate Democrats, hoping to save Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, are pushing for a vote on the project.

This is a win Obama could concede to Republicans, while soothing some of the hard feelings held by Democrats who blame him for their loss of the Senate.

Any such collaborative efforts would signal to the American people that their government is beginning to work.

There's nothing to be gained by two more years of belly bumping.

The president doesn't have to face voters again, but he has his legacy to think about. He can't possibly believe he can enact the rest of his agenda by fiat without provoking a destructive backlash from Republicans.

The GOP will have to defend its majority in two years. It is in everyone's best interest to call a truce and begin the process of restoring faith in Washington.