By Seung Min Kim
January 7, 2015
House Republicans are ready to fire the opening salvo in the war over President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
House leadership plans to move as early as next week on legislation to override Obama’s actions that could protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportations. That move is likely to be paired with spending for the Department of Homeland Security, which got only short-term funding from an agreement in December.
The GOP strategy — emerging just one day after Republicans officially took over both chambers of Congress — follows through on the party’s promise last year to strike back at Obama on immigration. Republicans chose to defer that fight to early this year, when the GOP would be in complete power.
But Republicans will also have to balance retaliating against Obama for his executive actions — which the GOP views as an unconstitutional overreach — and ensuring that DHS stays open and funded. That delicate balance was made even more clear Wednesday, when a terror attack at a satirical publication in Paris left a dozen people dead.
“If we want to target immigration to retaliate against the president, that’s fine,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). “But we have to make it clear that Homeland Security, at a time when we saw this massive attack in Paris, that we can’t be cutting funding or programs which would protect Americans from a terrorist attack.”
Congressional Republicans are very unlikely to let DHS funding lapse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stressed to reporters Wednesday: “At the end of the day, we’re going to fund the department.”
Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans are planning to try to choke off money for the executive action next week, with legislation to fund DHS most likely tied to language to limit funding for carrying out Obama’s executive action.
No final strategy decisions have been made, and it’s not clear what language the GOP leadership will ultimately use. But Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) described one possible companion bill on Wednesday: a measure written by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) that would explicitly bar any funds — even those collected by fees — to be used to carry out Obama’s immigration actions.
But other ideas are being batted around.
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) has introduced legislation that essentially mirrors Mulvaney’s measure. Fellow Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt finalized a bill — which has attracted more than a dozen GOP sponsors — that would combat Obama’s executive actions on immigration, toughen enforcement on undocumented immigrants and deal with the surge of unaccompanied migrant children who arrived in record numbers at the southern border last summer. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to offer legislation similar to Aderholt’s in the Senate, a Johnson aide said.
To that end, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) huddled with several House Republicans in his office Wednesday to chart out potential strategy on what to do with the DHS funding bill, which is tentatively planned to hit the floor early next week before congressional Republicans leave for their joint retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
No decisions were made at that afternoon meeting, according to lawmakers who attended, and House Republicans are set to meet again Thursday to continue to strategize.
“I think we all agree on the goal,” Mulvaney said. “And the goal is to undo the president’s unconstitutional actions.”
Funding for DHS runs through Feb. 27. That Boehner, McCarthy and House Republicans are acting this early shows that they want plenty of time to calculate strategy before that deadline to bring up the bill.
But Republicans will face hurdles beyond House passage of the DHS funding package. For one, Obama is almost certain to issue a veto threat for any legislation that undoes his sweeping immigration actions, which would shield upward of 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported and grant them work permits. A major slice of that population is parents of U.S. citizens or green-card holders who currently do not have legal status but have been here for at least five years.
It’s also unclear whether legislation overriding Obama’s executive actions could reach the 60-vote threshold to clear a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans will need the help of at least a handful of Senate Democrats to advance legislation, and although several moderate Democrats expressed opposition to Obama going at it alone on immigration, it’s far from certain whether they would actively help Republicans gut the executive actions.
So where Republicans go from there after legislation passes the House remains in question.
“If the president were to shut down Homeland Security to get his narrow political objectives done, then I think the president’s making a big mistake,” Sessions said. He waved off a potential veto threat, stressing: “We are going to stick to our plan, and we believe it is wrong what the president has done.”
Still, other lawmakers struck a cautious tone.
“I’m a real optimist,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a key player in immigration efforts, said Wednesday. “But I don’t think I’m optimistic enough to tell you that it’s going to be over real quick.”
Speaking to television reporters in the wake of the attacks in Paris, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urged lawmakers to give his agency a full appropriations bill, rather than the short-term funding leash that DHS is currently running under.
“We cannot continue through the course of the year to function on a continuing resolution,” Johnson said. “That poses real risk to homeland security. There are initiatives, new starts, that need to be funded in my department in an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015 that are very important to homeland security.”
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