Publicly the White House has maintained for weeks he intends to act by the end of this summer.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest wouldn’t confirm or deny the reports when asked on Friday, saying, “I don’t have an update on timing.” Several White House officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The prospect of a delay comes as Obama faces significant pressure from vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection, many of whom have expressed opposition to unilateral action by the president to tweak the immigration system. Inside the White House, there has been a heated debate about when to announce the moves, according to the New York Times.
Although no details have been finalized, the White House is reportedly considering executive changes that could relieve the threat of deportation for up to millions of low-priority migrants, as well as potential steps to increase the number of green cards provided to legal immigrants by changing the way they’re counted against statutory caps.
During a news conference Thursday, Obama reaffirmed his intention to act alone on immigration if Congress doesn’t, but provided few clues as to what he’d do or when he’d so it.
“I don’t think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act. In the meantime, what I’ve asked [Secretary of Homeland Security] Jeh Johnson to do is to look at what kinds of executive authorities we have in order to make the system work better,” he said. “But have no doubt, in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.”
Discussions about a possible delay sparked pushback from immigrant-rights advocates, who demanded that Obama keep his promise.
“Mr. President, your record on promises made and promises kept in the arena of immigration policy is one of failure,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said on Friday. “Keep your promise, take action, be strong and have faith that leaning into this issue is the right thing to do – policy-wise and politically. Hanging back out of fear is what the Republicans want. Taking action to address our broken and unjust immigration system is what the majority of Americans want.”
The trouble for Obama is that it’s not just Republicans who have expressed opposition to executive action on immigration. It’s Democrats like Sens. Kay Hagan (NC), Mark Pryor (AR) and Mark Begich (AK), all of whom are in close races that will determine which party controls the Senate. The White House faces a tough political calculus: Hispanic voters are not a major factor in any of those races, but white conservative voters are a huge factor, and relaxing immigration laws by executive fiat carries the risk of boosting turnout for Republican candidates.