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Opinion: Obama gets serious

Immigration reform per decree brings US President Barack Obama into direct conflict with Republicans. It won't be the last time, write's DW's Michael Knigge.

On the home stretch of his second term, US President Barack Obama has now completed his about-face - from a compromise-seeking agent of change to a presidential ruler-by-fiat.

After his election in 2008, Obama still believed he could he could operate as a kind of cross-party arbitrator, one who could tease out conflicts between the two parties and transform those disputes into acceptable solutions for all.

But with Republicans' total blockade against health care reform, it dawned on the president that "compromise" wasn't to be found in the dictionaries of most congressional Republicans.

By his re-election at the very latest, Obama and his advisers had concluded they could no longer cooperate politically with Republicans.

Campaign promises

Deutsche Welle's Michael Knigge

DW's Michael Knigge

After the bitter defeat in midterm elections a few weeks ago - elections which will hand Republicans complete control of Congress in January - there is no longer any need for the president to take potential voters into consideration. Obama has no further election ahead of him. That's why, for him, it's now a question of going it alone, if necessary, to implement his central campaign promises before the end of his term - or to try to do so, anyway. As for Republicans going along with him, he counts on their support - correctly - no longer.

Immigration reform was a beacon in Obama's campaign. As a 2008 candidate, he said - verbatim - that while he could not promise an immigration law within his first 100 days of office, he could guarantee it within one year. Six years and a failed attempt at compromise later, Obama has finally carried out his promise by executive decree. He simply had no other choice. In terms of his personal credibility, his political legacy and the eligibility of his party, he had to act.

But not only because of that. Reform by executive order is not a panacea, and the immigration debate will not stop due to presidential decree. But it is a step long overdue, and one in the right direction that will help millions - most of them from Mexico - many of whom have lived and worked in the country for years without a residency permit. It will finally provide them with long-term prospects in the nation of immigrants, the USA.

Climate protection and Gitmo

Two other central themes Obama will have to address before his term ends: climate change and the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility. Both issues are domestically explosive and technically difficult to implement - which is why Obama, after a number of failed legislative attempts, will deliberately attempt these issues again before the end of his term. On climate change, Obama promised wholeheartedly during the election campaign that the United States would again take the lead. With Guantanamo, Obama promised - just like with immigration - a closure of the camp within his first year in office.

Both, as is well known, have not happened. Obama does not have much time to change that. He will come across fierce opposition from Republicans on immigration reform. But, as with immigration reform, he simply can not afford to do nothing on these issues.

Further solo efforts are in the program.

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