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GOP governors slam Obama on immigration

Republican governors tear into President Obama's expected executive action on immigration .

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Republican governors on Wednesday tore into President Barack Obama's plan to issue an executive order extending new legal protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying there's "probably a very real possibility" that the state of Texas will sue the federal government over it.

"This is a president who talked years ago about the audacity of hope. Now it's the audacity of a power grab," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told msnbc in an interview.

"He promised in 2008 this would be at the top of his agenda," Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey told reporters in a press conference. "He had Congress in his complete, veto-proof control and he did nothing except blow hot air."

"The president's saying he wants to grant amnesty, he wants to go around Congress -- if he wants to change the law, the way to do this is to pass a law in the House and the Senate, not just to ignore the law and ignore the Constitution," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said he was still holding out hope the president would reconsider.

The cascade of comments came at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association at a Waldorf Astoria resort in South Florida, where more than two dozen GOP state leaders have gathered to trade policy ideas and toast Christie's run as chairman of the organization. In the new year, the GOP will have 31 governorships, the most since 1998.

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With news of the president's plan breaking midday Wednesday, the conversation at the conference quickly turned to immigration. Though the criticism came immediately, a number of governors struggled to say what should happen to the millions of undocumented workers who are already in the United States.

"I think it's a meaningless exercise if you don't secure the border," Walker said when pressed. "My view is we shouldn't be talking about any of it until we deal with the borders."

Pence, who has previously said there's "plenty of room for compassion" in dealing with immigrants and their families, was asked to explain further. "Compassion looks to me like first and foremost, making clear to people that we will uphold the laws of this country," Pence said.

Overshadowing the gathering and underscoring the outpouring of criticism, a half dozen of those governors are thought of as potential 2016 presidential hopefuls. Perry, Christie, Walker and Jindal have all openly said they're considering whether to run for president in 2016.  "It's on," Perry said Wednesday.

While these governors were already beginning to jockey with each other behind closed doors, they were united in saying they believe a governor will make the best Republican nominee in the next presidential cycle.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, now considered something of a GOP sage, had a warning for Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, all first-term senators considering a presidential bid: "They're qualified, but I think Obama's record makes it harder for them than it otherwise would. He doesn't make a very good case for first time United States senators wanting to be president."

RELATED: Nearly half of Americans disapprove of Obama immigration plan

Christie, for his part, told reporters, "The American people are done with that experiment of having somebody coming out of a legislative body who's never run anything before."

Christie, though, wasn't willing to engage on questions about whether he would reverse the president's planned executive order, telling reporters at a press conference with other governors that his bid was strictly hypothetical.

In fact, there were so many questions about 2016 that at one point, another governor on the press conference panel took some umbrage. "We haven't had many questions down this end of the table," said Larry Hogan, the unexpected winner of the governor's race in Maryland, noting the panel was intended to celebrate a successful 2014. "I just want to put everyone at ease at the table here, I have no intention of running for president in 2016." 

Christie's face registered his surprise. "Larry, we're all relieved," Christie said in response. "Thank you."