In a rebuke to President Obama, the House passed a bill Thursday aimed at blocking executive actions the president is taking to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to legally work in America.
“The president thumbed his nose at the American people with his actions on immigration,” Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, told reporters ahead of the vote. “The House will make clear today that we are rejecting his unilateral actions.”
Thursday’s bill, which passed 219-197, has little chance of becoming law. The Senate, still in Democratic hands until the new Congress convenes early next year, will not take up the measure according to Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the White House has already threatened a veto if it reaches the president’s desk. In a call with reporters after the vote, White House officials warned the House measure would weaken their ability to locate and deport violent felons and terrorists by diverting resources towards otherwise law-abiding immigrants.
“The United States House of Representatives is voting to prioritize breaking up families,” a senior administration official said.
The House vote was the first step – and a key test – of a broader plan by Boehner to appease Republicans upset with Obama’s immigration actions while preventing that rage from sparking a government shutdown fight some on the right have demanded. The bill gave Republicans a chance to express their displeasure ahead of planned votes next week on a bill funding the government through the fiscal year and a second bill funding the Department of Homeland Security until February or March.
Conservatives, led by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and advocacy group Heritage Action, argued this week that House Republicans should attach measures undoing Obama’s executive action to a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security instead, a move that would force Democrats to either accept the restriction or face a partial government shutdown. Cruz warned against a “meaningless show vote” at a rally on Wednesday while Heritage derided the bill as “purely symbolic” in a statement.
Boehner defended his decision Thursday morning, arguing that it bought Republicans time to renew the fight against Obama’s executive actions early next year when the incoming Republican Senate majority takes office.
“We think this is the most practical way to fight the president’s actions,” Boehner said. “We listened to our members and we listened to some members who, frankly, are griping the most. This was their idea of how to proceed.”
Rep. Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, who authored the legislation, conceded to reporters on Tuesday that it would be a “symbolic message” if the Senate refused to pass his bill. Several legal experts told msnbc that the bill’s language wouldn’t necessarily prevent Obama from moving forward with his immigration plan even if it did become law somehow.
The right’s grumbling prompted concerns that the Yoho bill might not pass, a development that could signal that the more controversial parts of Boehner’s plan on the right – the two bills funding the government – were in jeopardy. In the end, however, the few Republican dissenters on Thursday mostly weren’t from the House’s tea party wing. Reps. Mike Coffman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jeff Denham, Mario Diaz-Balart, and David Valadao – all of whom represent large Hispanic constituencies – voted against the bill from the left while conservatives Marlin Stutzman and Louie Gohmert voted against it from the right. Three Republicans, Paul Gosar, Steve King and Raul Labrador, voted “present,” while Democrats John Barrow, Mike McIntyre, and Colin Peterson broke with their party to support the bill.
Republican leaders may have more leeway to pass their spending bills as some Democrats have indicated they’re amenable to voting for them, helping to offset any further defections from the right that might occur. Boehner said he expected “bipartisan support” on votes next week.
Democrats, immigration advocates, and Latino groups challenged Republicans to pass immigration reform and noted that previous presidents from both parties had protected certain groups of immigrants from deportation through executive action. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, delivered a speech from the House floor next to a cardboard cutout of President Ronald Reagan, who signed a bill in 1986 granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, to drive the point home. Recent polls show Obama’s support among Latinos, a key voting bloc in 2016, surging since he announced his immigration overhaul.
“With this vote on this bill today, the Republican Party cements its reputation as the party of mass deportation,” Frank Sharry, executive director of pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said in a statement.