From the transcript of the "Meet the Press" interview:
CHUCK TODD: I'm going to go to immigration. You made a decision to delay any executive action until after the election. What do you tell the person that's going to get deported before the election that this decision was essentially made in your hopes of saving a Democratic Senate?Of course, you tell a lie, a political lie that everyone knows is a lie. Notice that Todd doesn't bother to ask: Aren't you going to have to lie? He's just asking exactly how will Obama phrase the lie.
PRES. OBAMA: Well, that's not the reason. A couple of things that I want to say about immigration. Number one...He's got the talking points worked out, of course. He begins with "Number one."
I have been consistent about why this is important. The country's going to be better off if we have an immigration system that works. That has strong border security, that has streamlined our legal immigration system. So the best and the brightest who want to stay here and invest her[e] and create jobs here can do so. That families can be unified, and that a system where the millions of people who are here in many cases for a decade or more, who have American kids, who are neighbors, who oftentimes are our friends, that they have a path to get legal by paying taxes, and getting above board, paying a fine, learning English if they have to.That was a statement of why Obama believes in the policy that he's threatened to impose by executive order. So, between the lines, his answer to the question asked is: I will overwhelm them with a clear, strong statement about why my immigration policy is the right one.
Obama segues into what, I assume, is the second talking point, that the House GOP won't adopt the policy and that's why he wants to resort to executive action, which is still not admitting that delaying the executive action is political:
So the good news is, we have bipartisan support for that. We have a Senate bill that would accomplish that. The House Republicans refuse to do it. And what I said to them was, "If you do not act on something that's so common sense that you've got labor, business, evangelicals, law enforcement, you've got folks across the board supporting it, then I'm going to look for all the legal authorities I have to act." I want to make sure we get it right. I want to make sure, number one, that all the T's are crossed.Chuck Todd hears his initial — "T" — and interrupts:
CHUCK TODD: Looks like politics. I mean, it looks like election-year politics.I can see why Todd was getting impatient, but Obama had not even addressed the question of delay and what to tell the person who faces imminent deportation and thinks Obama is putting the Democrats' success in the elections first.
PRES. OBAMA: Not only do I want to make sure that the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted, but here's the other thing, Chuck, and I'm being honest now, about the politics of it.There's the tell. Chuck interrupted him, and he immediately responded to Chuck's calling bullshit. Yeah, I know it's bullshit, and I know you want more straightforwardness.
That doesn't mean Obama proceeds to give straightforwardness, of course, anymore than Richard Nixon meant he was about to be perfectly clear when he said — it was his catchphrase — "Now let me be perfectly clear."
Obama proceeds to say:
This problem with unaccompanied children that we saw a couple weeks ago, where you had from Central America a surge of kids who are showing up at the border, got a lot of attention. And a lot of Americans started thinking, "We've got this immigration crisis on our hands." And what I want to do is when I take executive action, I want to make sure that it's sustainable. I want to make sure tha...Todd interrupts again:
CHUCK TODD: But the public's not behind you.Is the "politics of it" that Obama purported to be "honest" that he realized people wouldn't like the policy he was about to impose? That seems to be Todd's theory. Or was it that the "crisis" created by the "surge" was a reason to go more slowly and be careful? Which is what Obama seemed to be trying to say. I note that Obama's version might fly. The policy to be imposed by executive action was or might have been an impetus for the surge, so it's not a good time to solve the existing problem of long-term residents.
PRES. OBAMA: No, no, no, no.
CHUCK TODD: Are you concerned the public wouldn't support what you did?
PRES. OBAMA: What I'm saying is that I'm going to act because it's the right thing for the country. But it's going to be more sustainable and more effective if the public understands what the facts are on immigration, what we've done on unaccompanied children, and why it's necessary.So he comes to rest on the idea that people need to understand why his policy is correct and why he needs to act on his own and without Congress. That is political in a mild sense: A political leader ought to build public support for his actions. It's not political in the harsh sense that his critics are using against him — which is that he's delaying only to avoid affecting the elections.
Obama danced elegantly enough in the space provided for him by Todd's question.
Todd performed a little abrasion to maintain his journalistic credibility, but he never got back to the hypothetical character who was supposed to fixate our empathy, the poor immigrant who is deported in the period of the delay. And Todd retreated to a question that essentially adopted Obama's explanation for the delay. "But the public's not behind you" and "Are you concerned the public wouldn't support what you did?" are helpful, friendly questions that allow Obama to say that the delay is about the need to build public support, which is perfectly acceptable politics.
So by the end of all this talky-talk, we're distantly alienated from the accusation that Obama is making official decisions to coordinate with the struggles of the Democratic Party candidates in the fall elections.