I thought of a shorter way of expressing my post from yesterday. It starts with the well-worn Bismarck adage that politics is “the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
A broad legalization is what people (including a majority of Americans in polls) have been wanting Congress to do about the unauthorized population for many years. Congress has not acted. So the President is left to do what he can, to achieve what is possible in this area.
What is “possible” is what the President can succeed politically at doing without Congress.
He has judged that he could not succeed politically at just stopping deportations. Understandably, he says this would extremely overstep his authority in the Constitution, and could set a bad precedent. Unsaid is that this would also cause a major spat with Republicans in Congress (who could say it’s impeachable).
However, he can succeed politically at deferring the deportation of groups of unauthorized people who politicians find it difficult to inveigh against. People brought here as children, and now family of members of the military and veterans, for instance.
In our ossified system, action is limited to “special” executive discretion at the limits of where Congress refuses to legislate. People have been worried that gridlock may lead to more unilateral executive action, but in reality the practice seems less than grand. Politics is a form of opportunism — and the only opportunity that exists is to nibble at the edges of problems Congress pointedly ignores. Whether the executive correctly surveys the full scope of its opportunities is another matter.