- - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Amnesty for millions of illegals — just not right now. That’s the cry to President Obama of desperate incumbent Democratic senators in red and purple states. The president is mulling the use of his telephone and pen to give “papers” to millions of illegal residents before the summer’s end.

Facing the voters in only two months’ time, Democrats locked in tight races are finally acknowledging that standing too close to a president whose popularity shrinks by the day is as dangerous as playing a round of golf during a thunderstorm. If the White House defers the deportation of millions of aliens, Democratic incumbents, the key to retaining control of the Senate, will share the president’s blame.

Sen. Mark Begich, the endangered Alaskan who has voted with Mr. Obama 97 percent of the time, suddenly sings a different tune on the issue. After Labor Day, the game goes into the fourth quarter. “To me,” Mr. Begich now says, “securing our borders has to be the priority, and that should be the president’s focus.”

In North Carolina, Sen. Kay R. Hagan has looked at the calendar, too. “This is an issue that I believe should be addressed legislatively and not through executive order,” she says, counting on everyone forgetting that she voted against legislation that would have blocked Mr. Obama from acting without consulting Congress. The discrepancy between what she says and what she does will be rich fodder Wednesday when she faces her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, in their first debate.

A spokesman for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire says she “would not support a piecemeal approach [to immigration reform] issued by executive order.”

Indeed, nearly every Democratic candidate in closely fought Senate races is eager to criticize the president now for his announced intent to take unilateral action on immigration. This is eloquent explanation for the president’s backtracking. The White House on Friday acknowledged that the president’s decision could be deferred beyond the start of autumn, but it’s not clear that he means extending it past the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

The president must weigh his short-term survival against intensifying pressure from the open-borders crowd growing angry and impatient with him. Democratic strategists concede privately that if the president indeed goes “broad and generous” and does so before Nov. 4, he would signal that he’s writing off the Senate and wants to work on his legacy.

Republicans gleefully agree. “Executive amnesty would be the political equivalent of a nuclear explosion for Democratic candidates like Mary Landrieu [of Louisiana], Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor [of Arkansas] and Jeanne Shaheen,” says Brad Dayspring of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

But will vulnerable Senate Democrats keep their new convictions after Nov. 5, or does their newly professed loyalty to the Constitution and the separation of powers come with a post-election sell-by date? That’s a question their Republican challengers cannot allow to go unasked — or unanswered.

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