or a nectarine

President Barack Obama eats a nectarine following a town hall meeting at Kroger's Supermarket in Bristol, VA in 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Speaking to reporter aboard Air Force One, President Obama said the White House will not bring up immigration reform until next year:

“We’ve gone through a very tough year and I’ve been working Congress pretty hard. So I know, there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue. There’s still work that needs to be done on energy. Mid-terms are coming up. So, I don’t want us to do something for the sake of politics that doesn’t solve the problem.”

The Washington Post quotes Obama as saying “there may not be an appetite” to address immigration reform this year:

“It’s a matter of political will,” Obama said during a rare visit to the press section of his presidential plane. He added, “This is a difficult issue. It generates a lot of emotions. . . . I need some help on the Republican side.”

On Monday, I asked whether the White House would put the screws to the Blue Dogs to pass immigration reform the way they did on health care, and the answer appears to be “no.” Rather, they will rely on their tried-and-true game plan for dealing with issues important to “f&%king r#%ard” liberals:

  1. Captivate validators (veal pen) to control messaging to the community
  2. Engage in symbolic gestures that don’t actually address the underlying problem
  3. Blame the GOP for the inability to act
  4. Wait it out until circumstances prevent them from doing anything at all

As we’ve seen in the past week:

  1. Captivate: Luis Gutierrez, who last week was threatening to tell Hispanic voters to stay away from the polls and withhold support from Democrats in the fall, has changed his tune: “Lindsey Graham has walked away,” Gutierrez said. “Let’s not blame Harry Reid.”
  2. Symbolic gestures: Obama criticizes the recently passed Arizona law as “misguided.” Eric Holder says he is “considering” a possible legal challenge. Gutierrez praises for instructing Holder to evaluate the measure’s constitutionality.
  3. Blame the GOP: Nydia Velazquez “blamed Republicans” for failure to secure the boarder. Obama says “I need some help on the Republican side,” and the Washington Post says he is “willing to wait in order to work with Republican senators.”
  4. Wait until it’s too late: If the Democrats could lose control of the House in 2010, getting something through Congress “next year” may well be impossible. Recall what happened to EFCA after Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley.

This could have serious consequences for the Democrats in 2010. As Markos notes, there is already a disturbing intensity gap between Democrats and Republicans with regard to voter turnout, and Latinos as a group are markedly lower than Democrats as a whole. As he says, “in a close election, where getting Democrats to the polls will mean the difference between massive losses and holding our ground, we can’t afford to lose any of our base.”

But there’s also the distinct possibility that the validators will not be able to tamp down anger among Hispanic voters who were already upset about Obama’s broken promise to deal with immigration reform last year. The passage of the Arizona law has brought community anger to the boiling point, and massive demonstrations are already planned in 70 cities for May Day. The White House “veal pen” strategy breaks down when a community overthrows its validators for failure to act in meaningful ways. That could easily happen with immigration.

It could also swing the election against Harry Reid, who very much needs high Hispanic turnout to win his election. If they believe his gestures at immigration reform are meaningless, and rightfully insist that he has the power to bring a meaningful bill before the Senate for a vote, he could lose his seat — and he knows it. Which is exactly why Guitierrez and others have been trotted out to point community anger at Lindsey Graham, not Reid.

The bottom line: immigration reform is only going to get more difficult to pass after the election. And one of Obama’s tightest relationships is with the big tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle, who very much want immigration reform to pass so the cap can be lifted on H1-B visas. Microsoft alone spent $6.7 million on lobbying in 2009, and they have donated heavily to both parties. John Kyl was one of the “grand bargainers” of 2007, and Snowe and Collins have been supportive in the past. I find it very hard to believe that these powerful constituencies could not cough up a Senate Republican or two if need be, but there is no evidence that the White House has asked them to do so.

Rather than an obstacle, Lindsey Graham looks to be performing the role played by Joe Lieberman on health care: a convenient excuse that lets everyone off the hook, frees them from taking action and deflects anger from Harry Reid. But that also means that after the election, immigration could very well be the new EFCA.
Update: CNN’s Dana Bash tweets that “senate democrats set to hold a presser later today unveiling immigration reform proposal.”