BY CHUCK TODD, MARK MURRAY AND CARRIE DANN: By now, we know that President Obama’s executive action on immigration is likely coming. (Fox News says it could come as early as next Friday, but the White House says that President Obama still hasn’t made up his mind.) Politically, the question is whether such action would be a smart move — or a dumb one. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin has a good look at the political pros and cons here. The pros: It’s the best chance for Obama to reform the system in the short term (especially since House Republicans are unwilling to pass their own legislation), and it will fire up Latino voters, who will be a critical bloc to Democrats’ success in 2016. The cons: It would spark a policy fight with Republicans (the outcome of which is impossible to predict), and it could alienate the white voters Democrats lost in 2014. But maybe the biggest political reason to undertake executive action is that it would ensure the action becomes a key part of the 2016 race. Every Republican running for president would have to denounce the move. And then the GOP contest then would turn into who’s tougher against the action: Do they promise to deport the undocumented immigrants (if Obama’s ultimate executive action entails allowing them to stay in the country)? Like we saw in 2008 and 2012, that would push the eventual GOP nominee farther to the right than he or she might want to go — and make it harder for the nominee to return to the middle in the general election. Politically speaking, Obama taking the action could be the biggest favor he does for Hillary Clinton (if she ends up running).
Is that expected executive action already dividing Republicans?
And there’s the question of whether Obama’s expected executive action could splinter the Republican even before the 114th Congress begins next year. The Wall Street Journal: “A bloc of Republican lawmakers is seeking to use must-pass spending legislation in the final weeks of the year to place limits on President Barack Obama’s ability to loosen immigration rules, threatening to split the party in Congress… Now, some Republicans are pushing for Congress to make a move before Mr. Obama does. More than 50 House lawmakers have signed a letter saying that language barring the president from acting alone should be attached to legislation needed to keep the government operating after Dec. 11, when its current funding expires.” More from the WSJ: “The result is that barely a week after their broad election victories, party leaders will have to decide whether to override conservatives’ demands in favor of a more pragmatic approach. Party leaders also will have to decide when and how hard to fight the president over immigration.”
House and Senate Republicans hold their leadership elections today
With Congress back to work for the lame-duck session, the House and Senate will begin holding elections today to pick the leaders of each party in each chamber, NBC’s Frank Thorp and Alex Moe report. Senate Republicans — including new members elected last Tuesday — will vote for six leadership positions for their new majority, including Senate majority leader, majority whip, and the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans will make their picks for top positions, including for speaker, House majority leader, House Republican conference chair and House Republican policy chairman. The secret-ballot elections are held behind closed doors. Democrats, Thorp and Moe add, are expected to hold their side’s elections next week.
The Keystone XL pipeline and next month’s Louisiana Senate runoff
Next month’s Senate runoff in Louisiana between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and GOP challenger Bill Cassidy is already spurring lawmakers to push forward legislation green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline project. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp and one of us: “Landrieu … pushed aggressively for a vote Wednesday, speaking on the Senate floor and at a press conference on Capitol Hill. That vote, now scheduled for as early as next Tuesday, will need 60 votes to move forward. Within an hour of Landrieu’s push on the Senate floor, House leaders announced plans to hold a vote Thursday on a Keystone XL pipeline measure authored by Cassidy.” But folks, if you think the runoff will be decided over a contest of who’s the bigger Keystone champion, well, you might want to think again. That runoff is going to be determined if Landrieu can find enough Democrats to come to the polls, and if Republicans continue to be as enthusiastic after winning control of the Senate last week.
The Gruber Tapes
Conservatives have jumped all over comments by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber — who played a role in drafting both the federal health-care law and the earlier Massachusetts health law — made about Affordable Care Act during a 2013 academic panel. “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” he said, per the Washington Post. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.” And those comments are spurring Republicans to launch new hearings. But the New York Times’ Neil Irwin makes the point is that this is how Congress — whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans — always plays the game. “Mr. Gruber was exposing something sordid yet completely commonplace about how Congress makes policy of all types: Legislators frequently game policy to fit the sometimes arbitrary conventions by which the Congressional Budget Office evaluates laws and the public debates them. In the case of the Affordable Care Act, that meant structuring the law so that the money Americans must pay the Internal Revenue Service if they fail to obtain health insurance under the law’s mandate is a penalty, not a tax.” Of course, remember that the Supreme Court upheld the law precisely because it saw the mandate as a tax.
Huckabee is definitely dipping his toes into the 2016 waters
Turning to 2016 news, it’s now time for all of us to start viewing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 — as a possible, if not likely, presidential candidate. As one of reported yesterday, Huckabee on Wednesday departed on a 10-day trip to Poland, England, and California with more than 100 pastors and leaders from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. (Gee, what do those states all have in common?) The trip is billed as the “Mike Huckabee’s Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II Tour.” The Washington Post, which first reported on Huckabee’s travel, also reports that the former GOP governor is set to meet with deep-walleted Republican donors later this month. And in January, the Post adds, Huckabee is set to release a new book, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.” We assume this all means that Fox News will be suspending his contract with the news channel, right?
McCain is planning to run for re-election
Per MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he’s “absolutely” leaning toward running for re-election in 2016, and that he’s begun preparing for another bid. More from Hunt: “McCain, who will be 80 years old in 2016, told a small group of reporters that he expects that he’ll get a challenge from a Tea Party candidate – as he did during his 2010 re-election race – but that he’s already marshaling support from business and defense groups to help him. “You have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” McCain said. “I definitely think that I would have to absolutely anticipate a Tea Party candidate or two or three… Everybody tells me that I’m the No. 1 target of the Tea Partiers, so I hope that’s not the case.”
Updates on the undecided races
In California, it looks like Julia Brownley (D-CA) hung onto her seat in the tight race against Jeff Gorrell. And per the Sacramento Bee, “Freshman Democratic Rep. Ami Bera has captured the lead over Republican Doug Ose in the expensive and closely watched race for suburban Sacramento’s 7th Congressional District.”… In Arizona, the Ron Barber (D)-vs.-Martha McSally-race is headed to a recount…. And in New York, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) is the winner in her re-election bid against Republican Mark Assini.
:: Chuck Todd is moderator of “Meet The Press” and NBC News’ political director. He also serves as NBC News’ on-air political analyst for “Nightly News with Brian Williams” and “TODAY.”
In addition to his on-air analysis, Todd is responsible for all aspects of the network’s political coverage. He is also the editor of “First Read,” NBC’s must-read guide to political news
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