Remember when congressional Republicans got worked up about President Obama’s immigration policy? GOP lawmakers threatened a government shutdown over their new favorite phrase – “executive amnesty” – and vowed to force an ugly confrontation in the new year.
Well, the new year is here, and as early as today, the House Republicans’ legislative strategy is poised to move forward. As Benjy Sarlin explained, the basic idea is to fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security – either the White House scraps its relief for millions of immigrants or GOP lawmakers will cut off funding for the agency by the end of February.
The new iteration [of the Republican plan] would not only block the [entire White House] program, but [would also] stop new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and reverse a 2011 memo ordering immigration authorities to prioritize deporting criminals.“Only three words describe the Republican approach to immigrants: deportation, deportation, deportation,” Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said in a statement.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told reporters last week about his party’s policy, “Essentially what it says is the president cannot fund an activity that is unconstitutional and illegal.”
For the record, few seriously believe the president’s policy is “unconstitutional and illegal” – no one in either party made this argument when Obama’s predecessors took very similar actions – and there are no court rulings to bolster the dubious Republican assertions.
The real question, however, is just how far GOP lawmakers intend to go in pushing this standoff. Or put another way, would Republicans really cut off Homeland Security funding because of some bizarre animus towards undocumented immigrants?
At this point, we just don’t know. House Republicans and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) like to claim they have no choice – the Big Bad President approved a deferred-action program they don’t like, and no price is too great in the valiant crusade to stop him.
But the party is not walking in lock step. Some Senate Republicans believe this entire plan is folly – in part because the White House obviously won’t give in, and in part because it’s dangerous to go after Homeland Security funding right now – and a handful of high-profile House GOP lawmakers have suggested they’ll have to cave eventually.
What’s more, don’t forget that even if the House passes its far-right package, which it’s very likely to do, the proposal would need 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and those votes are unlikely to materialize. If they do, a presidential veto awaits.
In the bigger picture, I’ll concede there’s a degree of tedium to all of this. When Obama announced his policy in November, Republicans were confident that the public would be outraged – one Republican senator at the time suggested “anarchy” and “violence” were a distinct possibility – but none of the predictions were correct. The president’s approval rating went up, not down, and there’s ample evidence the policy will be good for the economy as well as the affected families.
It’s tempting to tell GOP officials, “Maybe it’s time to just move on to some other outrage,” but it seems unlikely they’d listen.