While discussing the administration's approach to immigration reform Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared frustrated with the hand President Obama has been dealt, lamenting difficulties in getting Congress -- predominantly Republican members -- to stand by their stated goals and prerequisites for reform negotiations.
From Napolitano's highly technical and remarks to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute:
When it comes to enforcing our nation's immigration laws, I think there are two important questions. The first question is: Are the laws on the books the best our country can do, and the answer quite frankly is no. From a law-enforcement perspective we need Congress to fix our broken immigration system ... the second question is, are we enforcing the laws we have in the best way possible. And here I think considering the major changes we have made and the effect that they are having, I believe the answer is yes."
When you add together the things the administration is doing both in the interior and at the border the result is clear: the most serious and comprehensive approach to immigration enforcement and border security that we have seen, certainly that I have seen in my career."
When you step back and say, 'Well, many members of the Congress who voted no last time on immigration reform said they needed to see more enforcement and more security first,' we have met every benchmark set in those debates. So the question I keep posing, the request I keep making, is quit moving the goalposts. Quit saying if you do this then we will be there. If you do that then we will be there. We are going to have smart effective enforcement at our borders and the interior of our country and we are showing that at every possible statistical measure.
Later, in the question-and-answer session, Napolitano went even further in touting just how far the administration had extended its hand on the border-security and law-enforcement fronts, with little to show for it in terms of progress in reform negotiations.
"I think [the border] is as secure as it has ever been and it is getting more secure each day," she said. "We will never seal the border. We will never seal the border. And so what I always turn around and ask is, 'Do you expect that the border will be sealed?' There is no land border this long in the world, of this nature, that anyone would possibly say has been sealed. Is this is a secure border, yes. And it is getting more secure every day."
What's surprising, in some respects, is that the administration continues to find the failure of congressional action -- or, for that matter, the failure of the public to acknowledge the sacrifices or accomplishments they've made -- all that frustrating.
This dynamic is hardly unique to the immigration debate. On health care reform, the administration forfeited a public option without any movement towards them by Republican moderates. Pre-BP oil spill, the White House committed itself to nuclear power and offshore drilling in energy and climate legislation with negligible benefits for overall negotiations.
Indeed, the lesson has routinely been that the sole most likely outcome of middle-ground policies has been simply to anger the Democratic or progressive base. While the audience at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute greeted Napolitano warmly, they weren't entirely sold on her remarks. For all its irritation at goalposts moved, after all, the administration still remains the most powerful political player in the immigration debate.