Locked in the Cabinet

From Glenn Thrush’s recent, ‘inside baseball’, Politico piece on The Organizer’s Cabinet comes this gem, demonstrating what a cesspool of crass political motivation animates Washington D.C.

Obama liked Napolitano—he twice vetted her for the Supreme Court—and stood by her even when she infamously said “the system worked” after the so-called underwear bomber nearly blew up a flight on Christmas Day 2009. Over the next year, she rehabilitated herself by seizing a central role on immigration, serving as a shield for the White House at a time when Obama was drawing fire from all sides. Obama backed sweeping immigration reform but believed it was politically impossible for him to achieve without first proving he was serious about border enforcement.

Napolitano embraced the approach. For three years, she presided over an unprecedented crackdown at the Mexican border, shattering Bush-era records with nearly 1.2 million deportations between 2009 and 2012. But as the election approached, Hispanic advocacy groups began to view the crackdown as an emblem of Obama’s unfulfilled promises for immigration reform and started asking uncomfortable questions: Latinos had given Obama almost 70 percent of their support in 2008 for this? Several of Obama’s top advisers, led by West Wing staffer Cecilia Muñoz, pressed for a more lenient border policy, pushing Napolitano to shift to a more targeted detention policy aimed at capturing criminal aliens, a half-dozen aides involved in the process told me.

Napolitano agreed, but she wanted to move slowly, to get buy-in from agents in the field. Muñoz and the Obama campaign’s Hispanic outreach team suspected Napolitano was “looking after her own politics,” with an eye toward another run in Arizona or even a national campaign. The stalemate broke in mid-2012, when Napolitano presented the White House with a memo calling for “prosecutorial discretion,” which dramatically cut the number of deportations.

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