For President Obama to successfully deliver comprehensive immigration reform, he must convince skeptical Republicans he is committed to border security while not alienating progressives disillusioned by the record number of deportations under his watch.
Soon-to-be White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday was asked about GOP claims that Obama could not be trusted to enforce immigration laws. Obama's spokesman trumpeted the very deportation figures that are considered by progressives to be a stain on the president's record.
“The suggestion that some people don't trust the president to enforce the law doesn't withstand a whole lot of scrutiny,” Earnest said in the daily briefing with reporters. “When you take a look at the numbers, you will see — again, much to the chagrin of some people in the president's party — that a lot of the metrics related to interdictions and immigration enforcement have — you know, indicate that that enforcement process is as robust as ever.
“Some of that is a testament to resources have been dedicated to the border in a way that we've never seen before,” Earnest added.
The obvious White House message to Republicans: Don't question us on border security — this president has done more than even his GOP predecessors to protect the border.
But that's hardly the tone Obama strikes when pressured by members of his own base who have labeled him “deporter in chief.”
"The reason you have deportations taking place is that Congress says you have to enforce these laws," Obama said at a town-hall style event in March. "I cannot ignore those laws any more than I can ignore any other laws on the books."
In other words, his message amounted to: I know you're frustrated with deportations, but it's Congress' fault, not mine.
Obama's remarks that day were tailored to a largely Hispanic audience.
That challenge of appeasing both sides in the debate has become even more critical as the White House attempts to give House Republicans the space needed to pursue a long-elusive deal on immigration reform.
Most political observers doubt the House will unite behind a major legislative fix before November's midterm elections, but the White House must avoid looking like it scuttled a potential agreement on Capitol Hill.
If lawmakers don't produce a solution, liberal supporters fully expect Obama to issue an executive order that expands on his previous actions for Dream Act-eligible immigrants in the country illegally.
Until then, the White House has decided to walk a delicate line, framing central components of the immigration debate in entirely different ways depending on the audience.
The dueling messages, White House supporters say, is necessary even if seemingly schizophrenic.
“Look, he can't walk into a room of Democrats and champion deportations,” said one veteran Democratic strategist heavily pushing immigration reform. “And he has to remind Republicans of the deportations or they accuse him of ignoring the law.”
“They have no choice,” the Democrat added, musing, “Don't you just love how Washington works?”
But some conservatives, even those promoting immigration reform, say the president's mixed messages aren't helping their cause.
“He's not satisfying any of the two audiences,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. "Instead of trying to explain the deportation numbers, he just panders to his audience. He's just following the simplistic rhetoric being used by the left.”