New York Times
By Ashley Parker
December 1, 2014
Washington — Congressional Republicans returning to Washington on Monday find themselves facing a treacherous 10 days as they try to balance their desire to fight President Obama’s executive action on immigration with the political imperative not to shut down the government.
Congress must pass a broad spending bill before Dec. 11 to prevent a government shutdown. But Mr. Obama’s executive action last month, which could allow up to five million people now in the country illegally to live and work without threat of deportation, has inflamed Republicans and complicated their calculation over what should be a routine spending fight.
House Republicans are reviewing a plan by Representative Tom Price of Georgia, who is popular among more conservative members, that offers a hybrid solution: a combination of a broad-based spending bill that would keep the government funded through September 2015 and a stopgap spending measure to pay for operations of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency with primary responsibility for carrying out Mr. Obama’s immigration action.
That plan, which is being called the “Cromnibus” for its combined elements of a continuing resolution for the short-term portion and omnibus for the broader-based spending, will be discussed when House Republicans gather Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting.
The rationale behind the short-term measure is that Republicans could revisit it early next year when they will control both chambers of Congress and, they believe, have more leverage in negotiating with Mr. Obama over immigration.
A complicating factor, however, is that the primary agency responsible for carrying out the president’s executive order is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is financed entirely through fees collected from immigration applications and therefore cannot be defunded in the appropriations process.
Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are still pushing for a clean spending bill, which they plan to have ready by next week. But Mr. Price, who is not a member of the Appropriations Committee, could help rally reluctant Republicans behind the legislation.
House Republicans also are considering taking legal action, either adding an immigration component to a lawsuit Speaker John A. Boehner filed last month against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act, or filing a new suit devoted to the president’s executive action.
Some of them are also talking about a separate bill to undo the executive action — though unless Republicans attach it to a broader piece of policy legislation Mr. Obama supports, Senate Democrats are unlikely to bring it to the floor for a vote. And even if they do, Mr. Obama is likely to veto it.
Republicans have another avenue to try to force Mr. Obama to agreement: blocking the president’s nominations. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have already promised to subject Loretta Lynch — the president’s choice to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general — to tough scrutiny over her views on the constitutionality of Mr. Obama’s executive action. And the recent resignation of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense sets up another tough nomination fight for Mr. Obama.
Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, is one of the names the White House is considering to replace Mr. Hagel. If Mr. Johnson — one of the architects of Mr. Obama’s immigration executive action — were to be nominated as secretary of defense, Republicans could use the opportunity to mobilize against him, especially as he has become the target for Republican criticism for what they denounce as “executive amnesty.”
And, if Mr. Johnson leaves the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans would have another opportunity to pillory both the president’s immigration policies and whoever his choice is to replace Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Boehner and his Republican leadership team, as well as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, have all been clear both publicly and privately about their desire to avoid a government shutdown at nearly all costs. The shutdown last year, over Mr. Obama’s signature health care law, severely hurt the Republican brand, and Republicans say they need to show the country that they are capable of governing.
Nonetheless, a handful of conservative Republicans are so incensed at Mr. Obama’s immigration action that they refuse to take any option off the table, including a shutdown, and have also floated the idea of censuring or even impeaching the president.
Another group of House Republicans, including Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, are quietly continuing to work on their own step-by-step immigration legislation. Their proposal would most likely start with the border security measures favored by all Republicans, but also address other issues within the immigration system, including the illegal immigrants already in the country. No legislation out of the House is likely to happen until the new Congress.
Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, said that Republicans were constrained until next year by the Democratic-controlled Senate, and that they were likely to ultimately settle on some version of Mr. Price’s plan. But, he said, House Republicans nonetheless need to send a strong public message that conveys their anger and frustration with Mr. Obama’s unilateral action on immigration.
“I think it’s important that we do something, but we recognize that our options are limited given the fact that the Senate wont turn over until after January,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Folks understand we won’t fix it now, but they won’t understand if we don’t send a message to the president that we don’t agree with what we did.”
On Tuesday, as lawmakers move to coalesce around a plan, immigration will be central to their work. Both the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have scheduled hearings on Mr. Obama’s executive action, with Mr. Johnson set to testify before the Homeland Security Committee.
Democrats are eager to keep the pressure on their Republican rivals. As news of Mr. Price’s plan spread before the Thanksgiving break, House Democrats were quick to label the option “a government shutdown, partial or otherwise.”
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