CBS and NBC Parrot WH Argument on Previous Presidential Immigration Policies as Grounds for Amnesty

On Wednesday night, CBS and NBC promoted the White House talking point that previous presidential actions on immigration gives President Barack Obama the proper legal authority to enact executive amnesty the evening before a primetime address to the nation on the topic. 

At no point during the coverage on either network did their reporters mention that this justification is being used despite the President’s previous assertions that he did not have the proper legal means to carry out any sort of mass-reaching executive order on illegal immigration. [MP3 audio here; Video below]

The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley began its coverage with a report from CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett who noted this White House argument before moving on to the expected specifics of the executive order: "[T]he White House says it has the law and history on its side, that Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 all used executive actions to protect various immigrant groups."

Over on NBC Nightly News, a story from NBC News senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing blindly pushed much the same narrative:

Both sides are gearing up for a legal fight. The White House argues seven modern Presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower, took executive action to deal with immigration problems, though it's never impacted this many people. 

In complete contrast to CBS and NBC, ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir followed the network’s morning newscast in mentioning the President’s contradiction on this issue. 

Anchor David Muir noted to ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl that the President will be hearing from Republicans after his speech “because the President himself has said before that he wouldn't take action on his own.”

After Muir asked Karl what made Obama change his mind, Karl simply responded that “[w]ell, that’s a very good question” before he expanded further:

The President, in saying that, just last year said that this would be very difficult to defend legally, that’s why he couldn’t do it. All the White House will say to this is that things have changed and they say what the President will be fully within his legal powers. 

Additionally, Spanish-language broadcast network Univision went one step further in pointing out four instances in which the President had previously iterated that he could not enact a wide-reaching executive order on illegal immigration.

Returning to CBS and NBC, the talking point regarding previous Presidents was not all that was noteworthy. CBS also had a brief report from CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes on Capitol Hill, who passed along a quote from a Republican Senator who suggested that “even if we think that the President is acting like a third grader, that doesn't mean that we [Republicans] should, too.”

Over on NBC, Brian Williams observed that the President was “about to pick a major fight, though widely predicted, over what is already a hotly debated issue” in the executive order.

Surprisingly, NBC joined with Spanish-language broadcast networks Telemundo and Univision in noting that the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated that 48 percent of Americans oppose the President’s upcoming executive order while only 38 percent support it. 

The relevant transcript from ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir on November 19 can be found below.

ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir
November 19, 2014
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Breaking News]

DAVID MUIR: And the other breaking development: What the President is about to do on immigration. 

(....)

6:38:04 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Pressing Ahead]

DAVID MUIR:  And now the controversial headline out of Washington at this hour: Word that President Obama will act on immigration tomorrow, unveiling his plan in a primetime national address and tonight, this message already from the President. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Everyone agrees that the immigration system is broken. Unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long.

MUIR: And here’s what we’re learning at this hour: The President is expected to announce a plan that would give up to 5 million undocumented immigrants legal status, including work permits and many of them, parents of children born here in the U.S. So, I want to go right to ABC’s chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl tonight. Jon, what are you learning from inside the White House at this hour?

JONATHAN KARL Well, the President is meeting tonight over dinner with key congressional Democrats tonight to explain exactly how this is going to work.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Now; President to Act on Immigration]

He's will actually take the action on Friday and, David, he is going to hear from Republicans on this. In fact, I'm told that congressional leaders, Republican leaders are already preparing to go to court to stop the President from going through with this.

MUIR: He’ll hear from Republicans, Jon, because the President himself has said before that he wouldn't take action on his own. So, what's changed here? 

KARL: Well, that’s a very good question. The President, in saying that, just last year said that this would be very difficult to defend legally, that’s why he couldn’t do it. All the White House will say to this is that things have changed and they say what the President will be fully within his legal powers. 

MUIR: Jon Karl live at the White House. Jon, thank you.

The portions of the transcript dealing with immigration from the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley on November 19 can be found below.

CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley
November 19, 2014
6:30 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Immigration Plan]

SCOTT PELLEY: The President is about to roll out his go-it-alone plan for immigration reform. Reports from Major Garrett and Nancy Cordes. 

(....)

6:37 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Executive Action]

SCOTT PELLEY: Today, President Obama confirmed that he will side-step Congress and implement his own immigration reform that will allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in this country. Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill; Major Garrett at the White House. First, Major. 

MAJOR GARRETT: Scott, the White House says it has the law and history on its side, that Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 all used executive actions to protect various immigrant groups. President Obama's version will protect from deportation or provide work permits to between 3.5 million and 5 million undocumented adults and children. Those affected would be parents of U.S.-born children or children who are legal permanent residents. Also, children brought here illegally but with deep roots in the country, more of the so-called dreamers would qualify. Now, Scott, none of this will take place right away. The President will sign the orders putting all this in motion Friday in Las Vegas, but it will take some time to put the rules in place and to verify eligibility of those seeking protection from deportation or those work permits. 

PELLEY: Major, thanks. Nancy, how are Republicans reacting? 

NANCY CORDES: Scott, their anger is universal and it is intense. They say that this plan is unconstitutional, that it amounts to amnesty and that it will only encourage more illegal immigration. An aide to Speaker Boehner even accused the President today of acting like an emperor. So, Republicans are now considering a range of responses, from suing the President to trying to cut funding to some of the relevant agencies when they take control of both Houses of Congress come January. There are some conservatives who want to move even quicker. They'd like the hold up government funding altogether when it runs out in early December, but Republican leaders have insisted they're not going to do anything to bring on a government shutdown and as one Republican Senator put it to us today, Scott, “even if we think that the President is acting like a third grader, that doesn't mean that we should, too.”

PELLEY: Nancy, thanks very much. 

The full transcript of the relevant tease and segment on November 19's NBC Nightly News is transcribed below.

NBC Nightly News
November 19, 2014
7:00 p.m. Eastern [TEASE]

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Taking Action]

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Taking action to stop up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation. The President is about to go around Congress and make a big change. 

(....)

7:06 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE CAPTION: Immigration Battle]

WILLIAMS: Now to Washington we go. We learned today President Obama's about to pick a major fight, though widely predicted, over what is already a hotly debated issue. Tomorrow night, before a primetime audience, the President will reveal the executive action he will take on immigration reform. We get our report tonight from our senior White House correspondent Chris Jansing. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So, tune in tomorrow night at 8:00 o’clock 

CHRIS JANSING: The official confirmation came from the President on the White House website. Since Congress hasn't passed an immigration bill, he'll bypass them with his own plan and detail it in an address to the nation. 

OBAMA: And so, what I'm going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as President to make the system work better. 

JANSING: The executive action is expected to allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, including the undocumented parents of children born here And it protects more dreamers, young people brought here illegally as children, but not their parents. It would also extend the stay of foreign graduates of U.S. colleges who have high-tech skills. On Friday, the President will go to the same Las Vegas high school where he addressed immigration reform almost two years ago. 

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: He feels like he has an obligation as the President of the United States to explain to the people who elected him precisely why he's taking the actions that he is taken. 

JANSING: A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows he has an uphill battle. Almost half oppose the President taking executive action, just 38 percent supporting it, and Republicans are vowing to fight it every step of the way. 

REPUBLICAN SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (TEXAS): I believe his unilateral action, which is unconstitutional and illegal, will deeply harm our prospects for immigration reform. 

JANSING: Both sides are gearing up for a legal fight. The White House argues seven modern Presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower, took executive action to deal with immigration problems, though it's never impacted this many people. 

REPUBLICAN SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (ARIZ.): My question to the President is, why couldn't you wait and see what this new Congress does? 

JANSING: The President says he's waited long enough for Republicans to pass legislation and here at the White House tonight, 18 Democrats have been invited to get details of the President's plan over dinner and a final note, none of the three major broadcast networks will carry the President's speech tomorrow. Brian. 

WILLIAMS: Chris Jansing on the north lawn for us tonight. Chris, thanks.

Congress Immigration Political Groups Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats ABC World News Tonight CBS CBS Evening News NBC NBC Nightly News Hispanic Media Telemundo Univision Government & Press President Barack Obama President Obama Jonathan Karl Scott Pelley Major Garrett Nancy Cordes Brian Williams Chris Jansing David Muir Barack Obama
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