This morning's news that the White House would prevent up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation scrambled the politics of support and opposition. For weeks, conservatives in both Houses had been promising to use every potential lever to block such a move. That had led to a conventional wisdom that the White House would act after this December's continuing resolution cleared Congress's itinerary for a few months, and after Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu won or lost her Dec. 6 runoff.
Congress was slow to adjust to its new reality. In an interview with CNN's Ted Barrett, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested that the White House was monkeying with the gears. "I'd like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it," he said.
But in hallway interviews, Republican senators had nothing particularly new to add to theories of how must-pass bills could be amended to end the executive amnesty, or how the president would "poison the well" by acting. At his post-leadership vote press conference, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got a direct question about whether the "executive amnesty" would lead to a shutdown.
"We'll not be shutting the government down, threatening to default on the national debt," said McConnell.
And at the very same time, Illinois Representative Luis Gutierrez had gathered a score of fellow Democrats at a TV studio on the House side of the Capitol, where they took turns one-upping each other in calls for the president to go big. Georgia Representative Hank Johnson compared the possible executive order to the Emancipation Proclamation, and speculated about which of its defenders would star in a movie adaptation of the struggle. New York Representative Jose Serrano promised, in the language of "the barrio," that Latinos would "have his back" if Obama acted.
"We will circle the president on fire," said Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. "We will be on fire for rightness and justice."
When the parade of Democrats ended, Gutierrez was asked what he made of Reid's caution.
"I have nothing but the greatest respect for the senior senator from Nevada, but I disagree with him wholeheartedly," said Gutierrez. "I believe that the blessings should be bountiful this Thanksgiving, when I break bread with my family."