The Briefing 11-17-14

The Briefing 11-17-14

The Briefing


November 17, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Monday, November 17, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Obama’s promise to unilaterally move on immigration a danger to separation of powers

This is likely to be a big week in American politics because President Barack Obama has been sending every conceivable signal that he intends to act and act quickly, perhaps even this week, on the issue of immigration. And the President has made abundantly clear; he intends to act not in cooperation with Congress, but rather by executive order. As Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal reported last Friday, the President is expected to announce executive actions that will overhaul the United States immigration system – a move that, she noted, would bring the fractious policy debate to a boil and test the White House’s already tense relationship with the incoming Republican majority in Congress. Meckler summarizes the executive orders in these words,

“Mr. Obama’s moves are expected to offer work permits and safe harbor from deportation for several million illegal immigrants with deep ties to the U.S., people familiar with the matter say. They would also likely make more visas available for high-tech workers and redirect immigration enforcement from the interior of the U.S. to the border.”

Similarly, Julia Preston of the New York Times reported and I quote,

“Changes to the immigration enforcement system that President Obama is expected to announce as early as this week could offer legal documents to as many as five million immigrants in the country illegally, nearly double the number who received protection from deportation under amnesty legislation in 1986.”

She then goes on to report,

“Unlike that law, which gave permanent-resident green cards to 2.7 million immigrants, Mr. Obama’s executive actions will not provide any formal, lasting immigration status, much less a pathway to citizenship. The actions will, however, have a large and, White House officials hope, swift impact on the daily lives of many immigrant families, removing fears that relatives could be separated from one another by deportations.”

There are at least two huge issues with vast worldview implications at stake here. The first is the issue of immigration itself. This is one of the most controversial issues in terms of contemporary American political life and it’s one of those issues that has to be contextualized, it is geographically responded to in different terms because the issue arrives in terms of the American public disproportionately. Those who are living in border states, those who are working in certain industries, those who have certain kinds of concerns related to immigration, they are affected disproportionately. But by any measure, there is a huge problem that eventually will have to be addressed. There are between, by most estimates, 11 and 12 million undocumented aliens – or so-called illegal immigrants – here in the United States.

One of the issues that becomes abundantly clear is the same that became clear in the mid-1980s – the United States government clearly lacks the will to deport by force between 11 and 12 million people. That’s simply not even a rational action; it’s not going to happen. It would take an entire militia to make it happen and even those who are against the moves President Obama will make this week are not actually in favor of any practical operation that would remove these illegal immigrants from the United States and its territory.

The real question is what kind of national consensus exists to deal with those who are here illegally? By any question, they broke the law – even now are probably breaking the law, in terms of entering and remaining in the United States. But the United States government and our economic system have also been complicit in this particular pattern because there are several industries, indeed there are vast areas of the United States, where the labor brought by these undocumented workers is absolutely necessary. For a nation of immigrants, this is a particularly vexing political and moral quandary. What do we do with those who came to follow the American dream, even if in so doing they broke American law? How do we create a system that is truly fair when there are any number of millions of persons who would wish to enter the United States but have not broken our laws to do so? What about all of those who are in the system waiting for legal avenues of immigration? While virtually everyone agrees that our system of immigration and citizenship should be fair, there is no easy answer to what fair might look like given the current construct of our situation.

We are indeed a nation of immigrants, but at the same time any nation in order to retain its own integrity and its own operational stability has to control immigration. The United States has done a very poor job of that for the last 50 or 60 years. This is not a recent problem. But President Obama also is seeking to capitalize on some political momentum here, and there is no doubt that he also hopes that a good number of these millions of people who will be remaining in the United States will eventually become supporters of himself and his party.

In terms of immigration, honesty compels us to understand that immigration is not only a central part of the American story; it also has to be an important part of the American future. And we have to recognize that even as American birthrates have been falling rather precipitously, we will find ourselves falling behind as a nation if we do not have a growing workforce and a growing economy that’ll actually require two things at this point and that is a steady flow of immigrants and a relatively high birth rate from those very same immigrants. Furthermore, we need to understand that even as we continue to need immigrants and will do so in the future, we should be a land that is particularly thankful that we’re the kind of nation people are trying to enter rather than to leave – that is no small matter in terms of the world as it stands in the year 2014.

Some on America’s political left oppose, or act as if they really want the nation to have no enforced immigration laws an all. But when they’re pressed to candor even in that claim, they quickly retreat understanding that that would mean the end of the nation in any viable or stable form. On the other hand, there are some on the political right who are actually exhibiting a form of xenophobia – a fear of those who are outsiders. But history of American immigration, those successive waves of immigration that have marked our history, demonstrate that that vast majority of those who are coming to the United States are doing so for one central and highly important purpose; and that is they want to join the American Dream, they want to be a part of the American experiment.

Virtually any responsible person understands that the United States currently needs a vast comprehensive overhaul of our immigration policies and laws. No one should fool themselves into believing that this would be easy, in terms of the politics of the situation, but this is exactly the kind of challenge to which the United States government, and especially our elected officials, should rise. But that raises the second big issue here and that is the separation of powers and the extent of executive authority in the United States because, politically speaking, constitutionally speaking, what President Obama here has announced his intention to do should be unconstitutional.

What are looking at here was thoroughly discussed in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat. He describes the President’s promised policies as a great betrayal and he warns, appropriately so, that what we’re looking at here is a vast consolidation and concentration of authority in the American Presidency that was never intended. There’s some background of this that is of vital importance. That article by Julia Preston from yesterday’s edition of the New York Times I referenced actually indicated what we’re talking about here. For instance, she mentioned the fact that the President’s threatened executive orders will, in her words, double the number of persons who receive protection from deportation under amnesty legislation in 1986. Well wait just a minute. That was legislation, that legislation was produced by Congress and eventually signed by then-President Ronald Reagan. What President Obama is threatening to do is to offer policies that will cover twice as many people without legislation – solely by his executive authority, or what he claims is his executive authority.

In terms of that authority, it comes down to this: there is no question that the President of the United States and the executive branch have the power of what is known as prosecutorial discretion. They have the executive authority to determine which crimes in which criminals are going to be prosecuted under the federal system. But when it comes down to the prosecutorial discretion the President is speaking of, no previous President of the United States, in the past more than 200 years of the American constitutional experiment, has ever overreached as the President now has announced his intention to do. And the timing of the President’s action is also highly suspect. Why did he not act this way in previous weeks and months if this is the right thing to do? The answer is abundantly clear – he did not want to endanger Democratic prospects in terms of the midterm elections that took place on November 4.

But the timing issue also plays another way. The Republicans have just been elected to a majority in the United States Senate and with a larger majority in the House of Representatives. Why would the President not do now what President Reagan did back in the mid-1980s and work with the new Congress in order to develop comprehensive immigration legislation? By any measure it would almost certainly not be exactly what President Obama would want, nor would it be what the Republican majorities in Congress would want. But it would be a significant advance and achievement and it would also honor the Constitution of the United States.

As Ross Douthat that accurately described in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, President Obama’s action with actually tend to move towards the idea of the imperial presidency in the United States. He reminds us that President Obama has already been using vast executive actions by means of avoiding Congress, but now he is also threatening to take this to an entirely new radical level. Douthat points out that this is actually beginning to mirror the kind of presidency that is found in Latin America and the doctrine of the presidency their known as caudillismo, referring to the executive who operates without much legislative or congressional checks or balances. Douthat rightly warns that if President Obama carries forth of this action and gets away with it, then, as he says, we’re making a kind of creeping caudillismo more likely in the United States.

He then writes these prophetic words,

“But if that evil must come, woe to the president who chooses it. And make no mistake, the president is free to choose. No immediate crisis forces his hand; no doom awaits the country if he waits. He once campaigned on constitutionalism and executive restraint; he once abjured exactly this power. There is still time for him to respect the limits of his office, the lines of authority established by the Constitution, the outcome of the last election. Or [says Douthat] he can choose the power grab, and the accompanying disgrace.”

Let’s just remind ourselves again that the separation of powers written into the United States Constitution was dependent upon the Christian worldview. The understanding especially of the fact that sin corrupts all centers of power and that if these centers of power are unchecked, the sinful results will be inestimable and horrifying. That’s why they developed the system of the separation of powers with the judicial branch, the executive branch, and the legislative branch, each acting as an important constitutional actor in our political stage; each checking the power of the other.

Make no mistake, and there are some people who will not find this as good news, the United States does indeed need comprehensive fair, just, and righteous immigration reform. That’s going to be a huge political challenge for this nation, but it’s a challenge the entire nation should face and especially the entirety of its branches of government. Both Congress especially and the President should work together towards this end. For President Obama, immediately after this election to act unilaterally in this way will endanger not only the future of genuine immigration reform but it will also endanger the nation in terms of the separation of powers and it will endanger our constitutional experiment in government and that in itself would be an unspeakable tragedy.

2) Gruber’s comments on Obamacare reveal irresponsible hiding of truth which hurts everyone

Also as we look at the week ahead, there’s another political issue that simply cannot be avoided. There’ll be a great deal of national conversation in the coming week as there was last week over the words that were spoken by Jonathan Gruber. Gruber is an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that’s MIT, and he was highly involved in crafting the Affordable Care Act – popularly known as ObamaCare. As federal records also show, he was a highly paid consultant to Democrats in Congress as the legislation was being crafted. But comments he made, both recently and in the years past, have now come to light indicating a deliberate deception when it came to selling the Affordable Care Act – not only to Congress, but to the American people.

As Jose A. DelReal of the Washington Post reported,

“Economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the Obama administration’s consultants on the Affordable Care Act, is under attack from conservatives for comments he made last year in which he said the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ was a factor in passing Obamacare in 2010.”

DelReal went on to report,

“The comments were made during the panel sessions at the Annual Health Economics Conference last year. A video of the panel began circulating Monday on conservative media. ‘This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,’ [that was said by Gruber]…during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania… ‘Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.’”


Well as you might expect, that kind of controversy has led to a significant investigation of exactly what he’s talking about. Now yesterday’s edition of the Dallas Morning News also indicates and I quote,

“Other impolitic statements have continued to dribble out in which Gruber claims that the law was written to deceive federal budget watchdogs and mocks conservatives’ concerns over health care policy. He has since disavowed the most controversial remarks, saying he ‘spoke inappropriately… [he also said,] I regret having made those comments.’”

What he has not said, and cannot say, is that he didn’t say them. Furthermore, he has not retreated from the central claims that he made years ago. He has said recently that he has spoken inappropriately, he has not said that he acted inappropriately back in 2010. An editorial column that appeared in the weekend edition the Wall Street Journal reads like this,

“As a rule, Americans don’t like to be called ‘stupid,’ as Jonathan Gruber is discovering. Whatever his academic contempt for voters, the ObamaCare architect and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his candor about the corruption of the federal budget process.”

The editorial goes on to say,

“In his now-infamous talk at the University of Pennsylvania last year, Professor Gruber argued that the Affordable Care Act ‘would not have passed’ had Democrats been honest about the income-redistribution policies embedded in its insurance regulations. But the more instructive moment [they say] is his admission that ‘this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.’”

Now you can look at this controversy and recognize that there is an undeniable partisan element to it and the White House is now understandably on the defensive. After all, the ObamaCare legislation is coming before the Supreme Court once again – oh, as you might expect, Jonathan Gruber spoke to that issue as well and in a way that will bring even further embarrassment to the Obama White House. There are two paragraphs in the Wall Street Journal editorial that are particularly important from a Christian worldview. They are these two statements,

“Rarely are liberal intellectuals as full frontal as Mr. Gruber about the accounting fraud ingrained in ObamaCare. Also notable are his do-what-you-gotta-do apologetics: ‘I’d rather have this law than not,’”

The second important statement that is found in this editorial in this,

“Mr. Gruber told a Holy Cross audience in 2010 that although ObamaCare ‘is 90% health insurance coverage and 10% about cost control, all you ever hear people talk about is cost control. How it’s going to lower the cost of health care, that’s all they talk about. Why? Because that’s what people want to hear about because a majority of Americans care about health-care costs.”

Well, if you were following that statement carefully, Jonathan Gruber was saying that even though the ObamaCare legislation was not really mostly about cost control – he said, in essence, it was only 10% that, it was 90% new health care coverage. He said that’s not how the system was sold to the American people, or sold at least to Democrats in Congress. Remember that the Affordable Care Act passed back in 2010 without a single Republican vote. But now Gruber says that was entirely dishonest. The law was presented as about cost control rather than insurance, when as it turned out, it was 90% insurance and only 10% cost control. Why, he asked the question himself? That was what was necessary, he answered, in order to get the bill passed – barely passed we note by Congress.

So what are the Christian worldview implications of this big news story? Well in the first place, the truth will come out eventually. If someone’s making these kinds of comments, it will become known to the public; now to the great embarrassment and frustration of the Obama White House. But there’s more here of course, this also helps to build a great cynicism about the American government because the Congressional Budget Office, he referred to as the CBO, is supposed to be the nonpartisan absolutely fair judicious and accurate evaluator of  all things economic in terms of legislation. And now we’re being told they were deliberately duped and, as we see, quite successfully duped by those who told them by feeding false information that what was being presented was not taxation but rather a form of cost saving by cost shifting.

The most important Christian worldview observation is this: the truth really matters. About that, the Scripture is abundantly clear. Honesty matters, the truth matters, and deliberate deceptions will eventually bring humiliation. And that’s exactly what’s taking place now. Perhaps the most humiliated is Jonathan Gruber himself, at least he ought to be, but those who used and deliberately used his misrepresentations should also be humiliated. The other thing to watch here is simply what happens when government grow so large that it is largely out-of-control. Here’s the really frightening thing; very intelligent people – economists, analyst, accountants, and others – in the Congressional Budget Office were unable to separate fact from fiction on such a fundamental issue and such an important piece of legislation. As every Christian should well recognize, when the truth is violated and when truth is handled irresponsibly, everybody loses. One of the great losses here is loss of confidence in the credibility competence and honesty of the American government. And that’s a truly massive and tragic loss. It looks like this week is set to begin with a bang, politically speaking, but there are other fronts as well and to those we will turn in coming days.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’m speaking to you from Dallas, Texas and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Obama’s promise to unilaterally move on immigration a danger to separation of powers

White House Considers Timing of Executive Action on Immigration, Wall Street Journal (Laura Meckler)

Obama’s Immigration Plan Could Grant Papers to Millions, at Least for Now, New York Times (Julia Preston)

The Great Immigration Betrayal, New York Times (Ross Douthat)

2) Gruber’s comments on Obamacare reveal irresponsible hiding of truth which hurts everyone

Obamacare consultant under fire for ‘stupidity of the American voter’ comment, Washington Post (Jose A. DelReal)

Jonathan Gruber’s ‘Stupid’ Budget Tricks, Wall Street Journal (Editorial)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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