Barack Obama

The president needs to lead from behind on immigration reform.

By Matthew Cooper
Updated: January 28, 2013 | 8:37 p.m.
January 28, 2013 | 2:41 p.m.

Anyone with a kid or a boss knows that one of the most important things you can do is back off. Hovering over your kid is not the best way to get them to put on their coat, and it’s not the best way to get a raise.

And that is the position President Obama finds himself in as he jets to Las Vegas on Tuesday to tout comprehensive immigration reform. The issue has hopelessly divided Congress over the past few years and the president punted on it in his first term, vowing to return to it after the election. It was in his Inaugural Address and it will be in his State of the Union.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the border crossing: Congress has now taken up immigration reform in earnest with all the good-government diligence of a Brookings report and a Washington Post editorial. Bipartisan groups of senators have been earnestly hammering out plans, including the inseparable duo of John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as well Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Chastened by the election results, Republicans have returned to the McCain-Ted Kennedy-George W. Bush immigration consensus that thrived around 2006, which is to create a so-called pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers. McCain himself retreated from his earlier position saying that border security had to come before the creation of a pathway for 11 million undocumented workers to seek citizenship. Now, McCain is back on board with his own plan—and so are lots of other folks.

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