Kay Hagan needs to pick a fight with President Obama. At a time when she’s touting her moderate credentials, she can prove her independence and show that she’s not just toeing the party line. And right now, there’s an issue that’s tailor-made for such a debate.

In response to the gridlock that’s left an ineffective Congress, Obama has increasingly used executive power to promote his agenda. Now, he’s prepared to give undocumented immigrants legal status without the approval of Congress. As liberal columnist Jonathan Chait points out, whether you agree with the goals or not, he’s setting a dangerous precedent.

For liberals who decried the abuse of executive power by George Bush and Dick Cheney, supporting Obama’s methods is hypocritical. Obama would effectively circumvent Congress by choosing not to enforce the immigration laws currently on the books. Government executives should not be able to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on whether they support them or not. Can you imagine the outcry if a Republican president decided that he or she didn’t want to collect a tax on a certain industry?

And here is Kay Hagan’s opportunity. She should lead by blasting the GOP for it’s refusal to address the immigration question and then denounce Obama’s plan to circumvent the legislative branch. She voted against the DREAM Act because she felt the need for comprehensive immigration reform. And on that point she is right, but it needs to be done through Congress, not through a unilateral action by the president. 

She would probably cause liberals to howl but she would embellish her independent credentials and could even take a lead in pushing Congress toward action. We don’t need an overreaching executive branch but we also don’t need anymore posturing politicians like Thom Tillis gumming up the works. Polls show that even Republicans want action on immigration reform.

Hagan should take this fight. Supporting immigration reform has broad support and criticizing the president can’t hurt. She might temporarily alienate her base but the issue is too complicated to have legs. The take away will be that she split with the president and called for Congress to act on immigration. It’s worth the risk. Besides, it’s the right thing to do.

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