After causing the White House frequent headaches with her presidential candidacy, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday finally offered an assist to President Obama — a strategic move Democrats hope will put heavy pressure on Republicans in next year's election.
In calling for a "full and equal path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants, Clinton became the highest-profile Democrat to amplify the White House's messaging on immigration.
White House officials are under no illusion that that Clinton's push will break the opposition to what GOP lawmakers view as amnesty, particularly after Obama's unilateral move to offer millions of illegal immigrants work permits and new protections from deportation.
But they see Clinton's entrance into the debate as the most effective way to establish battle lines on immigration ahead of 2016, using the fight as a wedge issue, one they insist will damage Republicans politically — and eventually produce legislation after Obama leaves office.
"The difference could not be any clearer," a senior White House official told the Washington Examiner. "If Republicans continue to block comprehensive immigration reform, they will do so at their own peril. We welcome what Secretary Clinton has to say."
It's an opportune change for White House officials, who have remained in a defensive posture ever since revelations surfaced about donations to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and the former secretary of state's exclusive use of a private email domain and server.
Rather than having to answer for Clinton, Obama and his aides can trumpet her immigration move to present a unified Democratic front on possible reforms. Given the incessant debate within GOP circles about how to handle the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, Democrats say they can better position themselves with Latino voters.
And some of the most prominent Republican contenders for the White House in 2016 worry that conservatives are essentially conceding a swiftly growing voting bloc to progressives. Republicans did poorly among Hispanics in 2012, prompting some GOP leaders to call for a re-evaluation of the party platform on the issue — such rhetoric, however, was not followed by policy changes in the Republican-controlled House.
"You have a president that uses this like a Stradivarius violin he's playing for some symphony. He use this as a wedge issue, and we always lose," former Florida governor Jeb Bush said of immigration last week.
Yet Clinton is not without her own blemishes, according to those most ardently pushing for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
In her 2008 presidential campaign, she waffled on whether she would support giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.
This time around she has offered her full support of such a proposal, aligning her campaign with the progressive position. It's a shift she has employed on a number of issues, most prominently, her support for same-sex marriage.
Some Republicans say that Obama and Clinton are overreaching on immigration. They argue that Obama's unilateral overhaul of the immigration system derailed any hope for legislative reforms and played into broader concerns about the president's constitutionally hazy actions.
And even supporters concede that Clinton's newest position will likely do little to alter the prospects for immigration legislation in this Congress.
"I just don't think House Republicans are getting ready to consider immigration reform," said Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions. "The pressure by Clinton is more directed at Republican presidential candidates. But the more people who get on the record saying comprehensive immigration reform needs to be passed, the closer you get to a consensus and the more likely the issue will be addressed in the next Congress."