With conservatives up in arms over President Obama’s decision to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, Republican leaders are scrambling to find a way to voice their base’s rage without sparking a government shutdown fight on the issue.
“This is a serious breach of our Constitution, it’s a serious threat to our system of government,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday after a meeting with House Republicans to discuss their response.
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Legislation funding the government expires on Dec. 11, and some conservatives want Congress to use the deadline to demand President Obama accept measures blocking his executive action or face another shutdown.
While Boehner said the caucus was “looking at a variety of options” for the lame duck session and beyond, he also sought to manage expectations as to what they could achieve. “Frankly, we have limited options and limited abilities to deal with it directly," he said.
House members leaving the meeting told msnbc that Republican leaders floated a plan to fund the government through the fiscal year, except for the Department of Homeland Security, the agency tasked with implementing the new executive action, which they’d instead fund separately through March. Members would also vote on a resolution by conservative Rep. Ted Yoho asserting that Obama’s executive action exceeds his authority, which the still-Democratic Senate would be certain to kill. The plan would essentially stall a funding showdown until next year when the incoming GOP Senate takes office, allowing the White House to move forward with its immigration plan unimpeded for now.
Boehner and other GOP leaders are eager to rebrand their party and the impending Republican majority in Congress as a productive laboratory for policy rather than simply an anti-Obama obstructionist body, an effort that a heated immigration standoff could derail early on. Recent polls show Americans strongly opposed to a government shutdown even as they disapprove of Obama’s plan.
The question, however, is whether the GOP leadership's proposed solution will satisfy the party’s right wing and give Boehner the votes he needs to move forward. Conservative advocacy groups like Heritage Action and prominent politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz, who helped egg on the 2013 government shutdown, want any bill funding Homeland Security to include legislative language derailing Obama’s action.
“Americans expect real action, not a show vote,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said in a statement after the meeting. “Conservatives in Congress must use the power of the purse to block President Obama’s executive actions – actions which are opposed by some in his own party. “
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a leader of the House’s immigration hawks, told reporters he would only back a bill to fund Homeland Security that blocked Obama’s unilateral reforms. “We have got to cut off the funding to the president’s lawlessness and fund everything else."
Yoho conceded to reporters that his bill would be a “symbolic message” if the Senate refused to take it up, but said it would give Americans an opportunity to pressure Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House into backing down. “It’s a starting point,” he said. “We got to start somewhere and get back to the constitution.”
While the legislative strategy is still up in the air, Republican leaders are giving their members plenty of opportunities to bash the administration’s decision rhetorically. On Tuesday morning, Republicans on the Homeland Security committee grilled the architect of the White House’s enforcement overhaul himself, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, in a hearing entitled “Open Borders: The impact of Presidential Amnesty on Border Security.”
"The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not -- and have not been for years -- prioritizes for removal," Johnson said in his testimony. "It's time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable. This is simple common sense."
After Johnson said the White House acted within the law and did not change it, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz tried to corner Johnson with a clip of Obama telling a pro-immigration heckler that he “just took an action to change the law."
"Someone plays me an eight word excerpt from a broader speech, I know to be suspicious,” Johnson responded. “That was very nice."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte also scheduled a separate hearing for the afternoon to “examine the constitutional questions surrounding President Obama’s unilateral actions and…hear from several legal scholars on this unprecedented power grab,” as he put it in a statement.