The Briefing 11-21-14

The Briefing 11-21-14

The Briefing


November 21, 2014

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


It’s Friday, November 21, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Pres. Obama’s executive action on immigration vast overreach of presidential power

Last night, a Thursday night, will be remembered as one of the most significant in recent years in terms of American constitutional history because last night President Obama spoke to the American people in a 15 minute public address and announced that he was unilaterally changing the way America addresses the question of immigration.

As David Nakamura reports this morning for the Washington Post,

“President Obama used a legal and moral argument Thursday to try to convince the American public that his decision to unilaterally protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation is consistent with the law and necessary to begin repairing a dysfunctional immigration system.”

Nakamura went on to write,

“In an evening address from the White House, Obama outlined a plan to provide administrative relief and work permits to as many as 3.7 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as well as an additional 300,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.”

The bottom line in all of this is that what’s actually at stake is an announcement that there will be a pause, a delay, in terms of deportations. A safe harbor of up to about three years was created for almost 4,000,000 illegal immigrants here in the United States. And add to that the 300,000 young people – those are children teenagers and young adults – who are brought to the country illegally when they were children.

In greater detail Michael Shear and Robert Pear of the New York Times report,

“Up to four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years can apply for a program [indefinitely delays] deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country…An additional one million people [they say] will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for ‘Dreamers,’ [that is] young immigrants who came to the United States as children. There will no longer be [according to the New York Times,] a limit on the age of the people who qualify.”

The federal government estimates that there are approximately 11 to 12 million undocumented aliens, or illegal immigrants, here in the United States. That’s far more than are covered by the executive action announced by the President last night. But the President’s action is far more sweeping than the action of any previous incumbent of the Oval Office. The President’s executive order was explicitly, by the President’s own words, put into place in the absence of a congressional action in the form of legislation.

While immigration activists, Democratic leaders, and the editorial boards of many of the nation’s newspapers cheered the President’s unilateral action, in reality it is still unclear exactly what long-term effect the President’s action will have. For one thing, it’s an executive order that will exist only in force so long as no new President elected in the year 2016 changes or reverses the order by President Obama. This is no long-term answer to the immigration problem and President Obama knows it.

As Ruben Navarette of the Washington Post columnist syndicate noted, President Obama’s executive action does not extend to granting amnesty, nor any permanent change in America’s immigration laws. What it does is announce that his administration is going to exercise what is known as prosecutorial discretion. President Obama has announced that his administration will not prosecute, and thus deport, between 4 and 5 million illegal immigrants in the United States who fit the descriptions of the policies the President announced.

But as Navarrette points out, the President’s executive order does not extend to amnesty and it doesn’t permanently change the nation’s immigration laws. This means that even many of the people covered by the President’s new policy may be unaware of exactly what the President has done – or even more likely, what he has not done. There is no lasting amnesty and there is no path to citizenship in the President’s executive order. There is, in his order, a reprieve from deportation, at least for those covered by the policy, and the possibility that many of the people covered also by the policy will be able to get permits to work within the United States – to work legally and to stay legally – for now.

The issues raised by the President’s announcement last night are many. On the moral side, there is no question that the immigration challenge now poses to the United States a very significant moral question. It’s a moral issue that simply cannot be avoided. But the language in President Obama’s address last night doesn’t actually help; it doesn’t make much progress in dealing with the issue morally – not in any responsible sense.

For one thing, the moral arguments used by the President last night extend to far more of millions of persons than those covered by the policy announced last night. On the political side, the situation is really complex. Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, Republican commentators, and especially Republican governors, responded with a great deal of outrage and much of it is absolutely honest and legitimate. But there’s a sense in which, just in terms of the raw politics of the matter, what the President did last night was to deliver a gift of sorts to both the Democratic and Republican parties. If you wonder what is meant by that, just consider this: the Democrats gained exactly what they had been demanding – their President acting on the issue, to what they believe will be there party’s advantage. But the Republicans also got a tremendous gift; they got a change in immigration policy for which they cannot be blamed and which never required them to place themselves on one side or the other of the issue in terms of a vote on legislation.

The President’s announcement last night will, at the very least, create some safe space in the United States on the immigration reform question through at least the next Presidential election. That’s not good for the nation, it’s not good for immigration reform, and it’s really not good for either political party. But in the short term, both parties actually gained by the President’s statement last night; not in moral terms, not in policy terms, but in terms of the raw political analysis.

Long-term however, the biggest impact of last night’s decision by the President is going to be the rule of law and our constitutional form of government, because what President Obama did last night was an executive branch overreach; an overreach of Presidential power that truly endangers the separation of powers that is at the heart of our constitutional form of government. The President, at least in times past, even fairly recently, seemed not only to understand that but actually to state it.

As David Savage reports for the Los Angeles Times,

“Just a year ago, President Obama was among those who doubted he had the power to halt deportations of millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Asked in a 2013 Telemundo interview whether he would heed calls to expand his deportation-deferral program to include more immigrants, Obama said, ‘If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally, so that’s not an option.’”

But as they say, that was then and this is now. Interestingly, even the New York Times has reported on this very interesting and troubling development. Michael Shear, in a front-page article in the New York Times on November 18 wrote this,

“President Obama is poised to ignore stark warnings that executive action on immigration would amount to ‘violating our laws’ and would be ‘very difficult to defend legally.’ Those warnings [reminds the New York Times] came not from Republican lawmakers but from Mr. Obama himself.”

Back in 2013, remember that’s just last year, speaking in a similar theme and addressing the fact that immigration has been one of his long-standing priorities, President Obama said this,

“This is something that I have struggled with throughout my presidency. The problem is, is that I’m the president of the United States; I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”

Once again, evidently, that was then and this is now. That was just last year. In making his announcement last night, President Obama knew these arguments would be put back at him in terms of the public debate. And so he cited previous executive orders on immigration issues that had been issued by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. But in fairness, those executive orders were very small compared to the vast and sweeping action President Obama announced last night.

In one of the most interesting developments on the constitutional score, George Washington University law professor and constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, has been named the lead attorney in a lawsuit against the President to be filed by the House of Representatives. As the editors of Investor’s Business Daily noted yesterday, and I quote,

“[Turley] is a respected constitutional scholar and Democrat who is not willing to stand by as the Constitution, the document that gave birth and life to the world’s oldest representative republic, is shredded as part of Obama’s fundamental transformation of America. [The editors went on to say] Unlike some of his contemporaries and most of the mainstream media, he took the House lawsuit seriously [he being Jonathan Turley].”

Turley’s a supporter President Obama, he’s also a supporter of the kind of immigration reform (as it’s so-called) that the President announced last night. But Jonathan Turley, as a constitutional scholar, is gravely concerned that what the President did last night endangers not only the Obama administration, but the American experiment, and our separation of powers that is at the heart of the American Republic.

Turley described the President’s announcement last night as,

“One of the greatest challenges to our constitutional system in the history of this country”

He also said that the President’s action,

“Threatens a fundamental change in how our country is governed.”

The question represented by this lawsuit, Turley wrote in a blog he published on Monday,

“…is whether we will live in a system of shared and equal powers, as required by our Constitution, or whether we will continue to see the rise of a dominant executive with sweeping unilateral powers. That is a question worthy of review and resolution in our federal courts.”

And you can count on the fact that the federal courts will eventually, perhaps even rather quickly, receive these constitutional questions in the form of a lawsuit posed not only by the House of Representatives, but perhaps by the United States Senate and perhaps by several governors as well.

The moral and political issues related to immigration will continue to be faced by this country because the President’s announcement last night does not resolve any of them. It is merely a delaying tactic in terms of deportation – though it does offer work permits to millions of persons who otherwise would not have qualified for them. But this is not a lasting change; it’s not a resolution to the issue. More fundamentally, the President’s announcement last night does present us with what could well become a constitutional crisis.

We need to understand that there is a vast difference between presidential rule and presidential leadership. The founders and framers of our Constitution wanted a strong executive; they called for “energy in the executive” but they did not grant to the presidency the power to rule – only the power to lead. That is what President Obama put at risk last night, whether the American people stand for it only time will tell.

But Christians in particular have to understand, as I have often reminded us on The Briefing, that the separation of powers is not merely a political principle, it is also a theological principle. The founders of this nation had a very strong understanding, indeed in general terms, a biblical understanding of human sinfulness. And they understood that power corrupts and as Lord Acton famously said ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ for that reason it was the Christian biblical understanding of sin that led the framers of our Constitution to believe that the only remedy for despotism was a constitutional order that separated powers in three equal branches of government. If that ever comes to an end, this nation faces deep and immediate peril.

2)  Bill Cosby scandal reveals fragility of reputation, persistence of sin

Next, a story that just has to be addressed because of the larger lessons involved, but a story that most of us had simply hoped wasn’t as serious as it first appeared it might be. Upon reflection, it’s a bigger story than we even feared. As Greg Braxton and Scott Collins of the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, and I quote,

“A generation ago, Bill Cosby played the role of America’s Dad, with a No. 1-rated family sitcom, a runaway bestseller about fatherhood and a lucrative … career built around his Everyman image. His legacy as a pioneering African American entertainer seemed secure. Early success as a stand-up comic was followed by [a series of successes on television. Including of course his role with a] Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable in ‘The Cosby Show,’ one of the first sitcoms centered on an affluent African American family.”

But Braxton and Collins now report,

“Now, his career stands threatened by allegations of sexual misconduct — with media companies running away from the man they once embraced.”

Without going into unnecessary detail, the fact is that Bill Cosby now faces a resurgence of claims of sexual abuse and sexual violence issued against him by not just a handful but an entire series of women. And these women, who had previously not gone public with the accusations, are now doing so and in a way that has led to an avalanche of public outrage that has caused the media companies that had once hired him and promoted him to run from him now as quickly as possible.

The front page of yesterday’s edition of USA Today featured an article by Andrea Mandell. She writes,

“Hollywood has given up on Bill Cosby.”

On Wednesday the entertainment industry slammed the door on the 77-year-old comedian, siding with the court of public opinion on a growing list of sexual assault accusations against him. She goes on to report NBC dropped a deal with Cosby for a new sitcom previously expected in 2015. The network had previously described it is ‘heartwarming.’ TV Land pulled all Cosby show reruns effective immediately, including a planned Thanksgiving marathon. Within minutes, says Mandel,

“…the network had deactivated its Cosby Show page online.”

One statement that certainly captures our attention was made by Victor Fiorillo, a senior reporter for Philadelphia magazine )Cosby’s a native of Philadelphia, and this is a reporter who’s been covering him for matter of years). Fiorillo wrote,

“Today will mark the end of Bill Cosby’s career in comedy, in telling people how they should live their lives, in being ‘America’s Dad’ and by some accounts, an American hero,”

Cosby’s response to the allegations has been to provide an attorney to say that the allegations are false but to refuse to deal with the issue straightforwardly in terms of any interviews or public statements. When addressed by not one but two major reporters in interviews about the question Cosby either fumbled the question or refused to say anything at all. What he did not say is that he had not had a sexual relationship with these women – with all of them or at least some of them. He was known to have settled a civil suit against him on similar grounds back in 2006 but as Los Angeles Times indicates, that furor died down – people didn’t know what to do with it since there were no other similar allegations. But all that has changed just in recent days and the allegations are coming in something of a flood against Bill Cosby; who, until just days ago, had been one of the most respected family entertainers in America.

Thinking from a Christian worldview, there are several aspects of this very tragic development that should have our attention; America’s talking about it, we should be thinking about it. One of the first things we should think is this: what we’re looking at is a near uniform moral response, once again, to this kind of sinful behavior – or at least this kind of accusation. The vast majority of Americans, virtually all who had been speaking to this issue, believe that if these allegations are true these represent horrifyingly awful behavior – indeed, what any previous generation would easily and quickly have referred to as sin.

The second thing from a Christian worldview perspective to note is this: if indeed one is ever accused of this kind of behavior the only real defense is not to argue that there was not the wrong kind of sexual relationship but that there was no sexual relationship whatsoever. Once again this points to the fact that the sexual morality of mere consent to which postmodern America seems to be so committed simply doesn’t hold up under moral strain or moral scrutiny – certainly not in a case like this. And here you have a first rank demonstration of that very point.

Third, we should note and we should note quite urgently that biblical principle that we should be sure our sin will find us out. Something that was thought to be buried years ago, something that was thought to have been hidden from public site and safely now to be distance by time, it turns out that just at the last moment, when perhaps it was thought that these allegations and charges would never surface in public, they explode into public view. In this case, years after most of these events supposedly took place and when Bill Cosby is 77 years old.

But this story, even in the secular age, even in an age of rampant moral relativism, still points to the fact that morality matters and virtually everyone knows it. It matters in this situation and everyone feels it. And what is now sensed in terms of near universal public outrage and moral concern is a sign that Americans really aren’t the moral relativist many claim to be.

But on this issue the final word actually is going to go to Martin Kaplan. He’s a professor at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. According to Kaplan this scandal will “certainly shoulder its way into the way Cosby is remembered even after his death”

At this point Professor Kaplan makes a statement to which we should give profound and immediate attention,

“Obits traditionally have a ‘who’ sentence at the start. Until now, his would have been: ‘Bill Cosby, who …’ followed by something about the Huxtables and being America’s Dad. Now I think that sentence will continue with … this sad, sordid history now unfolding.”

That’s a very interesting statement; it’s a truly profound statement. He points to the fact that virtually every obituary of a famous person lists the name and then says who and what follows that ‘who’ is of vital importance. That who is followed by a ‘who did this’ or ‘who did that.’ But now, as Professor Kaplan says, when it comes to Bill Cosby the events of the last several days have changed what follows the ‘who’ in the obituary. But that’s actually a very profound statement for all of us to consider and to consider from the viewpoint of a biblical and Christian worldview. It really does matter what follows the ‘who’ in this kind of obituary and the live we are leading right now, the decisions we are making in the present, the legacy we are leaving, and the testimony we are building, that’s what’s going to follow the ‘who.’

Watching this sad spectacle of the scandal now surrounding Bill Cosby and looking at a statement like that from Professor Kaplan of the Annenberg School, well it just will points to the fact that even the secular world knows – it just has to know – that it really does matter in an obituary what follows the ‘who.’ That’s an especially good reminder for each one of us.

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 San Diego, California and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Pres. Obama’s executive action on immigration vast overreach of presidential power

Obama acts on immigration, announcing decision to defer deportations of 4 million, Washington Post (David Nakamura)

Obama’s Immigration Plan Could Shield Five Million, New York Times (Michael D.Shear and Robert Pear)

In a fog on immigration reform, Washington Post (Ruben Navarette)

President Obama’s immigration plans hard to block, legal experts say, Los Angeles Times (David G. Savage)

For Obama, Executive Order on Immigration Would Be a Turnabout, New York Times (Michael D. Shear)

Turley Joins Republican Challenge To Obama’s Lawlessness, Investor’s Business Daily (Editorial Board)

2)  Bill Cosby scandal reveals fragility of reputation, persistence of sin

Bill Cosby is in role of outcast after sexual assault allegations, Los Angeles Times (Greg Braxton and Scott Collins)

Hollywood gives up on Bill Cosby, USA Today (Andrea Mandell)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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