President Obama is considering an executive order that would provide relief for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. And Republicans are gearing up to fight the White House “tooth and nail” over the action, with conservatives in Congress drafting a plan to tie up a must-pass spending bill that could lead to a government shutdown.
The scope of the White House’s immigration plan is not yet clear. NBC News' Chris Jansing reported Thursday that the executive order would allow parents of children who are American citizens, and immigrants with high technology skills, to stay in the U.S.
Led by Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon, some 59 House Republicans have signed on to a letter calling on House leaders to “prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside of the scope prescribed by Congress.” Congress needs to extend funding by Dec. 11 to keep the federal government running and Senate Democrats would almost certainly block any bill that included such language, creating a crisis before newly elected Republican members are even sworn in.
Speaker John Boehner didn't rule out including the language Thursday when asked about their efforts by NBC News' Luke Russert. "All options are on the table," Boehner said. "We are having conversations with our members. When we have a decision we will let you know."
Conservative activists and commentators have been egging on lawmakers for months to take an uncompromising stance on the issue. Assuming Salmon’s signatories hold together, they already have more than enough votes to prevent Boehner from passing a bill with Republican support alone. If that’s the case, Boehner will either have to accede to their demands and force a standoff, convince some to change their mind or turn to Democrats to help pass a final bill.
"Our goal here is to stop the president from violating his own oath of office and violating the constitution," Boehner told reporters. "It is not to shutdown the government."
One possible move Boehner is considering is suing the president over the immigration order, NBC News has confirmed. While the speaker previously resisted including the president's executive action granting relief to DREAMers in a pending House GOP lawsuit, such a move might help head off calls for a funding standoff.
GOP leaders have made clear in recent weeks that want to avoid any new shutdown after limping out of a divisive and unsuccessful effort to block Obamacare in 2013. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Politico last month that he hoped to pass a long-term funding bill during the lame duck session in order to remove the possibility for at least a year.
“If we are fortunate to have both majorities, take away any cliff you can have hanging out there,” McCarthy said. “If you have a cliff, it takes attention away. Why put cliffs up that hold us back from doing bigger policy?”
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was unanimously picked by his caucus to take the post on Thursday, told Time in an election eve interview that “there is no possibility of a government shutdown” this session.
Appearing on "Ronan Farrow Daily" Thursday, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham said he does not believe a shutdown will occur.
"I don’t think you'll see anything like that coming out of the House, certainly not out of the GOP," Denham said. "We’re going to be focused on getting a good budget bill done."
Boehner and Obama reportedly clashed over the issue of executive action in a post-election lunch.
"When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself," Boehner told reporters in a post-election news conference. "And he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path."
A prolonged standoff would also put Republicans in the position of demanding more deportations, a move that could alienate Latino voters ahead of a 2016 election in which they stand to play a major role and force GOP presidential hopefuls further to the right.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said in an interview with CNN that he has urged the White House to delay executive action on immigration until after passing a continuing resolution.
“The President has not made a decision regarding the specific measures he will take to fix our broken immigration system,” a senior administration official told msnbc. “In fact, he has not yet received final recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security.”
Immigration activists and their allies in Congress are pressuring Obama to halt deportations and approve work permits for as many as several million undocumented immigrants, however, and the president seems undaunted so far by Tuesday’s electoral losses.
“I am going to do what I can do through executive action,” Obama told CBS News last week. “It's not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place. And in the interim, the minute they pass a bill that addresses the problems with immigration reform, I will sign it and it supersedes whatever actions I take.”