Opinion

Why Romney should flip-flop on immigration

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

OK, Gov. Romney — regarding your refusal to endorse President Obama’s executive order on immigration relief for illegal high school graduates — I have a bunch of questions for you.

How do you explain that you are now farther to the right on immigration than the following conservative Republican leaders of your party: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. (and brother of that president) Jeb Bush and one of the leading prospects to be on your ticket, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio?

Where does that place you on the political spectrum?

Certainly not in the mainstream of the general electorate; not even the mainstream of the major conservative leaders of the Republican Party listed above.

Of course, you did this to yourself.

During the GOP presidential debates, for example, you criticized Perry for legislation that he supported, along with most Republicans and Democrats in the Texas State Legislature, that allowed Texas students whose parents were illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas public universities.

When Perry defended himself from your criticism by saying, “Have a heart,” you were unfazed, leaving the impression, at least to many people, that you didn’t have one.

Then when Gingrich challenged you to explain whether you really favored sending back to Mexico a grandfather who has lived in America illegally for 25 years, raised a family and grandchildren, worked hard and abided by all other laws — your response was, lest you forget, that this grandfather and the other 11 million-plus illegal aliens should “self-deport” themselves or be forced out.

Did you really mean that?

Then last Sunday, Bob Schieffer, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” asked you whether you agreed with President Obama’s proposed executive order on undocumented high school graduates. You hemmed and hawed.

But what you seemed to forget was that President Obama’s proposal was virtually the same as the one made by Rubio. The Florida senator told CBS News last week that he favors legislation that would allow high school graduates who are in America illegally to remain so long as they wanted to go to college, didn’t have a criminal record and had lived in America for a fixed period of time; and then they would have a renewable “work visa” and “probably 10 years” down the road, would have a pathway to citizenship, without preference.

Instead of focusing on why you didn’t support the Rubio proposal, you argued that President Obama should have gotten this proposal enacted by the Democratic Congress in 2009 or 2010 rather than proposing it now via executive order. But you conveniently forgot to mention that Republican filibusters, requiring 60 votes in the Senate, killed any chance of immigration reform.

Yes, Obama’s decision to issue this executive order at this particular time, rather than a year ago or two years ago, had some political motivations. Why, this is positively shocking for a president during a reelection year!

And yes, there are serious questions on the legal authority of the president to issue such an executive order involving substantive policy changes, as the president himself stated many times in the past. But I also believe there is a sound legal argument that the president and the Justice Department may exercise prosecutorial discretion as to what deportation cases are worth bringing and what are not worth bringing. If Republicans want to bring a case to challenge the president’s order, fair enough: Let the courts decide.