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Immigration Action Will Likely Bring Pain – For Both Obama and GOP

Image: President Obama to Announce Executive Action on Undocumented Immigration Issue

CALEXICO, CA - NOVEMBER 19: A man stands at the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California. U.S. President Barack Obama plans to announce executive action on immigration reform Thursday Evening. As many as five million undocumented immigrants could, on a temporary basis, be granted work permits and exempted from deporation. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images) Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

With President Obama making his announcement to take executive action on immigration at 8:00 pm ET and with Republicans vowing to fight him, we have one simple prediction for both sides. To quote the famous 20th Century philosopher Clubber Lang, “Pain.” For Obama, our new NBC/WSJ poll previews that predicted pain, with 48% of Americans opposing him taking executive action here, versus 38% supporting him. (Those numbers look very similar to polling on the health-care law, no?) That said, our NBC/WSJ survey also shows the public supporting him on the underlying policy -- with 57% favoring a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and with 74% backing it when they hear what that pathway entails. Beyond the legal arguments (and most legal experts believe Obama’s action is within the law), Obama’s biggest problem here is process. Americans prefer elected leaders coming together to get something done; indeed, our NBC/WSJ poll shows the public wanting compromise over sticking to positions by a 63%-30% margin. So Obama probably is going to take a hit for going it alone. WHAT he is doing here isn’t as unpopular as HOW he’s doing it. And if we’ve learned anything in this era of political trench warfare, when the opposition is throwing the kitchen sink back at the White House, that doesn’t help a president’s poll numbers.

McConnell: 'Make No Mistake' GOP Will Remember Obama Immigration Action 1:00

GOP is more divided right now than the Democrats

But pain also is coming for the Republican Party. Why? Because no current issue divides the GOP more than immigration reform. Just look at the reaction after yesterday’s news that Obama was going to make his executive-action announcement. On the one hand, there was outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) calling the recipients of Obama’s deportation policy “illiterate” potential Democratic voters. On the other hand, there was Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), one of the co-authors of the “Gang of 8” Senate immigration bill, who told reporters that Republicans should respond to Obama by passing immigration-reform legislation. "I hope we respond with legislation," he said. "I hope we pass legislation." Right now, the Democratic Party is much more united here than the Republican Party is, at least when it comes to how they respond. And then there’s the 2016 angle. As we wrote last week, Obama’s immigration action is going to ENSURE that immigration becomes a key part of the GOP presidential nominating race. Most (if not all) of the Republicans running for president are going to have to denounce the move. And then the GOP contest will turn into who’s tougher against the action. Like we saw in 2008 and 2012, that would push the eventual GOP nominee farther to the right than he or she might want to go. This is why some Republicans wanted to get immigration done last year -- to keep the issue away from the 2016 race.

A product of Obama’s own doing

Here’s one final point we’ll make on Obama’s immigration announcement and the blowback that’s coming his way: It’s his own doing. By allowing Senate Democrats to persuade him to wait until AFTER the midterms to do this, you’re hearing Republicans complain that Obama is ignoring the will of the voters. (Then again, the 2014 national exit poll found 57% saying illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.) Of course, had Obama made his announcement in August or September, the blowback might have come then instead of now. But given what we said above about how it’s already divided Republicans, you wonder if Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) wishes immigration had been the storyline heading in the final weeks of his failed re-election bid instead of everything else.

Republicans Say Obama Taking Wrong Turn With Immigration Action 1:27

Jim Webb announces presidential exploratory committee

If you picked the former one-term Virginia senator as the FIRST person to announce a presidential bid (either in the form of an exploratory committee or full-fledged run), you win a prize. Late last night (at 11:59 pm ET !!!!!), former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, Democrat, launched his exploratory committee late Wednesday night via Twitter, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports. The former Marine, Navy secretary and author has been hinting at a run for the Democratic nomination for months. "I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people," Webb wrote on new website Webb2016.com. "I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run." Why announce this so late at night? And why during the Great Immigration War? If you know Webb, nothing he does conforms to conventional wisdom.

Kasich stands out in Boca

At yesterday’s RGA confab in Boca Raton, FL, Ohio Gov. John Kasich stood out -- by sounding different than his fellow GOP governors who might run for president (Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal). Per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill, of the five governors on stage, only Kasich was open to the possibility of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, saying: "We've got to think about what's going to bring about healing. My sense is, I don't like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, we may have to do it." Kasich's tone throughout the panel was strikingly different than his Republican colleagues, who called the president's planned move "the height of arrogance" (Jindal), "unconstitutional in his own words" (Perry), a "profound mistake" (Pence) and a "political" act to "change the subject" (Walker). Instead, Kasich called on Republican leaders in Congress to work with the president. As Yahoo’s Jon Ward writes, Kasich also appeared to support Common Core, and he justified his decision to expand Medicaid (“Ronald Reagan expanded Medicaid, OK?”).

Republican Governors Differ on Path to Citizenship 1:43

“Almost like the election never happened”

The recently concluded midterms cost billions of dollars, generated thousands of different headlines and resulted in Republicans winning control of the U.S. Senate. But they didn’t change much else -- especially the public’s attitudes about politics in Washington, according to our new NBC/WSJ poll. Consider:

  • More than three-quarters of Americans say the election won’t substantially change the nation’s direction;
  • More say they have less confidence that elected leaders in Washington will start working together to solve problems;
  • And Americans are split almost evenly between positive (41%) and negative (39%) reactions to Republicans controlling both the House and Senate next year.

“While this wave election has changed the composition of Congress and added Republican governors, it has not changed the nation’s psyche or their expectations,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Fred Yang (D). Indeed, about two-thirds of Americans continue to say that the nation is on the wrong track, President Obama’s approval rating remains in the 40s and a majority still thinks the nation’s economic and political systems are stacked against them. “It is almost like the election never happened,” Yang adds.

Obama’s job approval at 44%

Speaking of Obama, 44% of adults approve of his overall job performance in the NBC/WSJ poll, which is his highest rating since April. Our poll taken before the midterm elections showed the president’s job rating at 42%, but that was among registered voters, not all adults. Also, Obama’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating is right-side-up at 45% positive, 43% negative among adults – the first time it’s been above water since April.

The 2016 field is crowded -- and not all that popular

Here’s the other headline from our NBC/WSJ poll: The potential presidential candidates don’t have a lot of crossover appeal. As one of us writes, “For all the preparation and jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign that’s taken place more than a year before the nomination process formally begins, most of the top White House contenders aren’t enjoying high ratings among the American public. Even the most positively-viewed potential candidates get nearly as much opposition as support, according to the latest NBC News/WSJ poll.

Among all respondents:

  • Ben Carson 17%-7% (+10)
  • Elizabeth Warren 23%-17% (+6)
  • Hillary Clinton 43%-40% (+3)
  • Rand Paul 26%-23% (+3)
  • Marco Rubio 21%-19% (+2)
  • Mike Huckabee 25%-24% (+1)
  • Scott Walker 15%-14% (+1)
  • John Kasich 11%-10% (+1)
  • Chris Christie 29%-29% (even)
  • Joe Biden 35%-38% (-3)
  • Jeb Bush 26%-33% (-7)
  • Rick Perry 20%-29% (-9)
  • Ted Cruz 16%-26% (-10)

Among Democrats:

  • Hillary Clinton 78%-5% (+73)
  • Joe Biden 62%-9% (+52)
  • Elizabeth Warren 36%-6% (+30)

Among Republicans

  • Huckabee 52%-8% (+44)
  • Rand Paul 48%-6% (+42)
  • Jeb Bush 44%-12% (+32)
  • Ben Carson 33%-2% (+31)
  • Marco Rubio 37%-7% (+30)
  • Scott Walker 29%-2% (+27)
  • Chris Christie 40%-19% (+21)
  • Rick Perry 33%-13% (+20)
  • John Kasich 23%-6% (+17)
  • Ted Cruz 27%-12% (+15)

FYI: Our NBC/WSJ poll didn’t measure Jim Webb.

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