President Obama’s announcement last night that he would take executive action to shield some 5 million undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation provoked an angry reaction from Congressional Republicans, who had warned beforehand that such a move would make future cooperation on that, or any other issue, impossible.
Many members of the GOP, including House Speaker John Boehner, currently the most powerful Republican in Washington, promised that there would be retaliation for the president’s decision to bypass a legislative branch that has, for years, been unable or unwilling to pass measures dealing with an immigration system that all parties involved say is “broken.”
However, exactly what the Republican response might be – and whether the GOP even has good options – isn’t at all clear.
At a press conference on Capitol Hill Friday morning, Boehner said, “With this action the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And as I told the president yesterday he is damaging the presidency itself.”
Boehner continued, “The action by the president yesterday will only encourage more people to come here illegally, putting their lives at risk. We saw the humanitarian crisis on our border last summer, how horrific it was; well next summer it could be worse.” He did not address the fact that the executive action only applies to individuals who have been in the country for five years already.
The Speaker vowed that Congress would act to counter the president.
“In the days ahead, the peoples’ House will rise to this challenge,” Boehner said “We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk.”
However, when asked what sort of action lawmakers would take, he declined to be specific.
“We are working with our members, looking at the options that are available to us, but I will say to you the House will in fact act,” he said.
Lawmakers do have options for responding to the president. The problem is, they’re all bad. Here are some of the possible GOP moves getting the most attention right now.
Slow-walk the budget process and use it as leverage to punish the administration.
Senate Majority Leader-to-be Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Boehner had a vision, shortly after the election, of using the lame duck session to clear the decks of budget issues for the fiscal year that ends next Sept. 30. That would have allowed them to turn to the GOP agenda when the new 114th Congress begins work in January.
Instead, now they must explore tactics ranging from a series of short-term extensions of spending authority to hamstring the federal bureaucracy, to rescission legislation to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from fully implementing the president’s immigration order, to writing a ban on the president’s new policies right into the appropriations language.
But none of those tactics is truly workable or would have any staying power. House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) issued a statement Thursday saying that it would be impossible to defund Obama’s executive action through a government spending bill because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will enforce the president’s executive action, is funded through fees, not the appropriations process. Moreover, if Congress wrote restrictions on USCIS into a spending bill, the president would veto it.
Get their act together and pass new immigration legislation to supersede the president’s executive action.
With the GOP in control of both chambers, the leadership could push through a bill wiping out the heart of Obama’s protections for more than four million illegal immigrants and including new measures to strengthen security along the border and increase visas for skilled workers and migrant laborers. But immigration has so badly splintered House Republicans in the past that there is no reason to believe they could reach consensus even on this type of legislation. And again, if it were to somehow pass the House and the Senate, Obama could greet it with a veto.
File another lawsuit against the president challenging the constitutionality of the executive order.
The issue of whether Obama was acting within his constitutional powers is at best murky and would take months or years to settle in the courts, provided the courts would even consider the case.
Historically, courts have been reluctant to hear cases brought against a president by members of Congress. And the lawsuit that the House authorized last summer to sue Obama for unilaterally changing a provision of the Affordable Care Act was only officially filed today. In fact, the major law firm that initially agreed to represent the House in that matter recently dropped the case, which forced the House to turn to Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University legal scholar, to handle the case.
The four-step approach: disapprove, censure, cut the funding, impeach.
Now we’re getting personal—and if Republicans decide to go all the way, it could backfire. Congressman Steve King, (R-IOWA) says, “I would like to start with the most minimal thing we can to put the president back into the constitutional guardrails and then step it up.” But leaders could eventually feel strong pressure from Tea Party and other far right conservatives to take the ultimate step of trying to permanently stain the president’s tenure and legacy or kick him out of office altogether.
We heard a lot of impeachment talk at the height of the Republicans’ assault on the Affordable Care Act. Such a move would come just as the 2016 presidential campaign was heating up and would generate a truly poisonous political atmosphere that would likely play into the hands of Hillary Clinton and her Democratic allies.
Boehner offered no clues on Friday, but began laying the groundwork for the Republican claim that whatever fallout the nation experiences from the executive actions taken by the president will be Barack Obama’s fault alone. In fact, Boehner claimed that Obama was even to blame for the lack of Congressional action on the issue.
The president has repeatedly criticized Congressional Republicans for failing to pass any immigration legislation. In his appearance Friday morning, Boehner tried to turn the tables, claiming that it was Obama’s fault that he had been unable to convince his conference to come together behind a bill.
Boehner claimed that by taking executive action to change the way the Affordable Care Act was implemented and by promising executive action on immigration if Congress failed to act, the president made it too hard for him to move forward.
“I warned the president over and over that his actions were making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do.”
Explaining Congressional inaction, he said, “[The president] was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together. As I warned the president, you can’t ask the elected representatives of the people to trust you to enforce the law if you are constantly demonstrating that that you can’t be trusted to enforce the law. The president never listened and with this action he has refused to listen to the American people.”
Roll the dice again on another government shutdown.
Tea Party conservatives including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Steve King of Iowa, are prepared to challenge Obama to either sign new spending legislation that defunds implementation of his executive order or face another government shutdown. White House officials signaled to reporters before the president’s speech Thursday night that Obama would use his veto pen to block any legislation that would undercut his new policies.
McConnell has repeatedly vowed that there would not be a repeat of last year’s 16-day government shutdown on his watch, and both he and Boehner are fully aware that the public invariably blames the Republicans for major disruptions in government services, as they did back in the mid-1990s when a Republican-controlled Congress and the Clinton administration clashed over the budget.
Standard & Poor’s calculated that last year’s shutdown took $24 billion out of the economy, shaving at least 0.6 percent off of GDP in the fourth quarter. Do Republicans really want to kick off their stewardship of Congress next year with a government shutdown? Not likely.
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