Move over, Barack Obama. The Republicans are now the party of hope—at least when it comes to Obama’s expected executive order on immigration.
“We hope the president isn’t going to do that,” Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, said November 13, in his first postelection press conference at the Capitol.
McConnell’s deputy, Texas senator John Cornyn, is also hopeful. “I hope he delays it permanently,” Cornyn said. “But at least I hope the president will give us an adequate time to be able to work together to try to begin to build a bipartisan consensus on repairing our broken immigration system.”
Renee Ellmers, North Carolina congresswoman and an ally of the House GOP leadership, likewise sounded a note of hope. “I wish that the president would pay more attention to what happened in the election, and use less rhetoric,” she said.
Some Republicans are practically on bended knee. At a November 13 House GOP conference meeting, Speaker John Boehner told his colleagues that he entreated President Obama not to act unilaterally on immigration. “He told the president to just give us one more chance to pass an immigration bill,” said one congressman.
Boehner and the House are unlikely to get that chance. For weeks, the White House hinted the president would take executive action on immigration after having its reform efforts blocked by the Republican-led House. There were clues the administration was preparing to expand its deferred action program for the children of illegal immigrants to those immigrants themselves. Last month, the AP reported that the feds made a large order of a certain stock of paper—the kind used to issue green cards to immigrants. When asked about the purchase, White House press secretary Josh Earnest just laughed. Then, November 12, Fox News reported Obama plans to sign an executive order that would protect from deportation up to five million illegal immigrants, giving them permits to work legally in the United States and even, yes, green cards.
Immigration hawks in the GOP are preparing for battle. In an op-ed for Politico Magazine, Alabama senator Jeff Sessions urged “no surrender” on the issue. “The President will arrogate to himself the sole and absolute power to decide who can work in the U.S., who can live in the U.S., and who can claim benefits in the U.S.—by the millions,” Sessions wrote. “His actions will wipe out the immigration protections to which every single American citizen is lawfully entitled. And his actions will ensure—as law enforcement officers have cried out in repeated warnings—a ‘tidal wave’ of new illegal immigration.”
How to stop an executive amnesty? “There are no answers right now,” said a senior House GOP aide. “There are options, but there is no set path.”
Here’s one option: Target the money. Funding for the government runs out December 11, and House leaders are hoping to pass a long-term spending bill (with the lame-duck Democratic Senate) before then. But immigration hawks say Congress should instead pass a short-term continuing resolution that funds the government into early 2015. The united Republican Congress can then more effectively fight the Obama administration on funding the executive order.
Matt Salmon, a congressman from Arizona, has drafted a letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee requesting that any upcoming spending bill include language that would block funding for the executive action. Fifty-nine House Republicans—not exactly a majority of the conference—signed it.
Republican David Vitter of Louisiana is pushing his colleagues in the Senate to back this idea. “I’ve taken the position, with a lot of folks—and I think it’s far broader than some conservatives on immigration—that we can’t do anything like a long-term spending bill,” Vitter said in a phone interview. “That will give up opportunities to block any action.” He also suggests a long-term spending bill that excludes homeland security alongside a short-term bill funding the department. That way, fighting over funding the executive order in early 2015 won’t risk a shutdown of the entire government.
“Nobody wants a shutdown,” said Salmon in the basement of the Capitol. “But I think that’s where everybody’s really jittery.”
That’s for sure. Mitch McConnell categorically ruled it out in his November 13 press conference. “We will not be shutting the government down or defaulting on the national debt,” he declared. What if the president moves forward on his immigration action, a reporter pressed. “We will not be shutting the government down,” McConnell repeated, punctuating his words.