WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans and President Obama are racing toward a showdown over immigration that could result in another governmental shutdown, impeachment proceedings or both.
Obama returned to Washington from Australia on Sunday after attending the G20 summit and now is expected to issue an executive order by the end of the week, if not sooner, that the White House has hinted will, among other things, postpone the deportation of as many as 5 million undocumented aliens and allow them to obtain work permits.
Specifically, sources suggest, the plan will expand a program that permits illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to remain and work on a temporary basis. It also likely will permit individuals who crossed the border illegally and had children while living in the states, thus making those children American citizens, to stay.
Additional steps are still being contemplated, like stricter border enforcement measures.
The president has consistently maintained that he is taking action only because the Republican-led House is dragging its feet and has failed to consider a bipartisan measure that passed the Senate last year. If the House acts, Obama has said he will rescind the directive.
“I can’t wait in perpetuity when I have authorities that, at least for the next two years, can improve the system, can allow us to shift more resources to the border rather than separating families, improve the legal immigration system,” Obama told reporters before leaving Australia. “I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to improve the system that everybody acknowledges is broken.”
But legislative Republicans, fresh off overwhelming victories in the Nov. 4 election that provided them with majorities in both the House and Senate when the 114th Congress convenes in January, said any presidential order on immigration will dirty the waters, rendering action on the issue even more difficult while further deteriorating their already strained relations with the president.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he isn’t looking for a government shutdown but he asserted that “all options are on the table” in the effort to prevent any unilateral action from the president, and he is discussing potential strategies with GOP lawmakers.
“We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path,” Boehner said. “This is the wrong way to govern.”
Boehner added that Republicans want to “stop the president from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution. It’s not to shut down the government.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, who will lead the majority in the next Congress, has also warned the president of potential consequences if he proceeds sans congressional approval. But McConnell has vowed to keep the federal government operating regardless of what action Obama might take.
“Let me make it clear – there will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” McConnell said the day after winning election to a sixth term.
But McConnell could face some pushback from the delegation he has been selected to lead. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, characterized the potential for an executive order on immigration as “shocking” and is pressing the GOP leadership to seek only a short-term budget that will keep the government open only through the beginning of next year to exert pressure on the White House.
“The president cannot, having had his policies defeated at the ballot box, impose them through executive decree,” Sessions said. “A Republican Congress will defend itself and our citizens from these lawless actions. Surrendering to illegality is not an option. Democrats will have to choose sides — protect the president’s agenda or protect your constituents. Americans do not want their borders erased.”
Rep. Steven King (R-Iowa), one of the leading voices in opposition to immigration reform, volunteered that “the audacity of this president to think he can completely destroy the rule of law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me. It is unconstitutional, it is cynical, and it violates the will of the American people. Our republic will not stand if we tolerate a president who is set upon the complete destruction of the rule of law.”
King added that Congress “cannot allow Barack Obama’s anticipated unconstitutional act to be implemented, for if it is it will destroy the pillars of American exceptionalism. Come what may – we must always protect the Constitution.”
But should Obama proceed he won’t be the first president to issue an executive order offering some form of protection for illegal immigrants under current law. Two Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, extended amnesty to some undocumented workers who had family members living in the U.S.
In 1986, Congress passed the Simpson-Mazzoli Immigration Reform and Control Act, which remains in effect. The law provided legal status to about 3 million undocumented workers who entered U.S. territory before 1982. But spouses and children who didn’t meet those requirements were targeted for deportation.
Congressional efforts to change the law failed. So in 1987 the Immigration and Naturalization Service under Reagan declared that minor children of parents who were granted amnesty would not be deported.
Regardless, congressional Republicans are trying to stop Obama in his tracks. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) sent a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, asking that the panel prohibit funding for any immigration executive order Obama might issue.
Salmon said the president already has indicated that he intends “to pursue a course of unilaterally granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.”
“He claims this will be for their benefit, but it is the most detrimental action he could take toward reform of our nation’s immigration laws,” Salmon said, asserting that any such action “would kill any possibility of meaningful reform in the future.”
Salmon noted that 62 members joined him in signing the letter.
“Our Constitution makes clear that the president is not free to act as he sees fit without regard to our laws,” Salmon said. “It also includes language that gives Congress the power of the purse, a tool that has been used many times before to rein in out-of-control executive actions. If the president is intent on defying the will of Congress and the American people, then Congress must be willing use their constitutionally-mandated tools to stop him.”
And there have been whispers of impeachment if Obama proceeds, although it doesn’t appear the GOP will reach that far. King said it should be considered and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) raised the specter during a recent interview on “American Forum’’ carried by NewsMaxTV.
“Well, impeachment is indicting in the House and that’s a possibility,” Barton said. “But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir.”
For his part, Obama noted that the Senate passed acceptable legislation on June 27, 2013, by a 68-32 vote and the situation warrants action since the House has refused to act after almost 17 months.
The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers living in the U.S. It also would add 40,000 Border Patrol agents.