Was Obama’s Immigration Announcement Good Politics?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

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Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

President Barack Obama responds to a reporter's question as he announced that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer deport young undocumented immigrants on June 15, 2012 at the White House

Penn: Obama’s announcement that the administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants is a win for the president on all levels. This order functionally enacts parts of the DREAM Act and fulfills one of Obama’s most scrutinized campaign promises. It distances the president from a Congress that is gridlocked on the issue and widely unpopular. And it represents a decisive bite-size government action that is meaningful among others to a growing and important subset of the electorate — Latinos. It’s a smart political move with tangible political consequences in this election season.

Obama’s action directly targets Latinos who are playing an increasingly important role in presidential elections. Latinos constituted 9% of the electorate in 2008 and 67% voted for Obama. They will likely break 10% for the first time in 2012 and, in addition to helping carry Democratic bastions such as California and New York, Latinos are the key to Obama’s chances in several swing states such as Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

Obama is presently beating Romney among Latinos 61% to 27% and his announcement will only further help to consolidate the Latino vote behind him. This order is the closest he can come right now to enacting the DREAM Act, the components of which a sweeping 90% of Latinos support.

(MORE: Barack Obama: A Nation of Laws and a Nation of Immigrants)

Acting decisively on immigration will help Obama and the Democrats in the long run. A recent poll of registered voters showed that Obama and Romney were statistically tied when asked who was strongest on immigration with a combined 17% saying neither was strong or that they did not know. Obama’s new life on immigration will help to further differentiate Democrats from Republicans on an issue where neither had gained much traction so far.

Romney and the Republican Party, meanwhile, are backed into a corner and are quickly losing any chance they had at winning Latino support in this election. Choosing a Latino running mate, once seen as a path towards increasing Latino support, will likely do little to help Romney. Only 34% of Latinos said that choosing a Latino running mate would make them more likely to vote Republican, and Romney would get no bump among them in several swing states. In addition, deportation is not a viable alternative plan — 64% of Americans believe that illegal immigrants who are currently working in the US should be allowed to stay either as citizens or guest workers.

Obama has successfully catered to his base with the Buffett Rule, his support of gay marriage, and now his policy on immigration.

His challenge now is to move to the center and capture the swing voters in this election. His next targets should be professional Americans and independents — two groups that will put him over the top as he seeks a second term.

(MORE: Cover Story: “Not Legal, Not Leaving”)

Hughes: As a raw display of political power, it was a move worthy of the best of Chicago’s political machine. As a most inappropriate use of presidential power, President Obama’s decision to bypass Congress and ignore U.S. law more closely resembles the move by Egypt’s ruling military council to disband that country’s elected parliament.

Even those who disagree with the president’s decision to run roughshod over the system of checks and balances so carefully delineated in our Constitution have to admire the audacity of his move. Obviously concerned by Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s efforts to find a compassionate and comprehensive solution to America’s immigration situation, President Obama essentially cut in line, moving swiftly and unexpectedly to grab headlines and offer a partial solution to a problem he’s ignored for the bulk of his presidency.

What a difference an election year makes! In 2011, President Obama seemed to recognize that a president does not have the authority to do what he is now doing. “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed,” he told Jorge Ramos of Univision during a town hall. “For me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as President.” Indeed. But that was then, and now, there’s an election to win. And it’s hard to imagine that even his loyal defender, senior adviser David Plouffe, was able to claim with a straight face that the decision had nothing to do with politics. Just like peanut butter has nothing to do with peanuts.

Nuance gets lost in politics, so it’s unlikely that the many of those who have heralded President Obama’s move know that his action just made a more permanent solution far more difficult by taking the most sympathetic cases — children who came here through no fault of their own — off the table. In the process, he declared himself king, able to decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore. Just like Egypt’s military rulers.

PHOTOS: Behind the Cover: America’s Undocumented Immigrants