Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on President Obama’s executive action on immigration opened with a video montage. Introduced by Republican chairman Bob Goodlatte during his opening statement, the Fox News-produced video featured clips of Obama repeating several times throughout his presidency that he did not have the authority to institute deferred action without congressional approval.
“It’s not how our system works,” said Obama in the video, over and over again. Needless to say, though Goodlatte said it anyway, Obama seems to have changed his mind. It was a devastating demonstration, with the president making the GOP's own constitutionality
Democrats pushed back on the unconstitutionality argument, saying that the executive action fell under the president’s “prosecutorial discretion.” On Obama’s executive authority flip-fop, Democratic committee member Zoe Lofgren of California could only offer this defense: “If the president had said multiple times that five plus five is fifteen, and then he finally said five plus five equals ten, he would not be wrong when he finally said five pus five equals ten.” But what the House Republicans and their witnesses argued was that Lofgren has it backward: Obama’s was right when he said he couldn’t act unilaterally, and only when he reversed himself did the math get bad.
And so the hearing went on, Republicans making the case against the executive action and Democrats defending it. The proceedings were interrupted several times by the theatrics of immigration activists in the audience, who were eventually booted from the room by Capitol police. Many held signs reading, “House GOP, Don’t Deport My Family.” One activist stood up and looked directly at Iowa Republican Steve King, a primary bugaboo for immigration activists. “Do your job, Steve King,” the man repeated, ad nauseum, while police took an uncomfortably long time to remove him. During the whole ordeal, King just stared forward blankly.
King’s resigned expression might have summed up the feelings of congressional border hawks in the penultimate week of the lame duck session. Republican committee chairs had called hearings like this one and a Homeland Security hearing that morning to put on record GOP opposition at President Obama’s action. Meanwhile, House leaders like Speaker John Boehner were revealing a little more about how they planned to respond to Obama.
"We're looking at a number of options in terms of how to address this. This is a serious breach of our Constitution," Boehner said at a press briefing Tuesday. "It's a serious threat to our system of government.” But, Boehner was quick to add, “we have limited options and limited ability to deal with it directly."
Hence the high-profile hearings and the emerging legislative plan, which includes a House bill, drafted by Florida Republican Ted Yoho, to “block” Obama’s action. The bill has no teeth, and is sure not to pass the (still) Democratic Senate anyway, but as the Associated Press put it, it can “give outraged conservatives an outlet to vent.”
But border hawks don’t want to vent, Politico reported Wednesday morning. They’d like to block funding for the “executive amnesty,” preferably by passing a short-term spending bill that kicks the issue to the next, Republican-controlled Congress. The current spending resolution ends on December 11, and it was a goal of appropriators on both sides of the aisle in both houses to finish the lame-duck session with a neat and tidy omnibus spending bill that would fund the federal government through late next year. Boehner and House leadership are giving them almost that: a long-term spending bill with the option of “reviewing” Homeland Security appropriations early next year, which could give Republicans the chance to defund provisions of Obama’s executive action. For leadership, it’s a compromise that avoids what is seen as tocix “shutdown politics.” But for conservatives, it’s both a betrayal and a strategic error.
“I think a lot of us, in discussion, we don’t see the purpose of having a long [continuing budget resolution]. Why not do it the first day we’re in session?” John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, told Politico.