Despite some last minute Beltway theatrics, it seems likely that Congress will approve a bill funding most of the government for a year, while only funding the Department of Homeland Security (which implements immigration enforcement) through February. This move by GOP leaders is meant to persuade conservatives that really, truly, by golly, Republicans will take the fight to President Obama’s executive action next year, by staging a fight over funding for DHS to force him to relent.

But conservatives are right: If you take at face value House GOP leaders’ own lurid depictions of Obama’s action as a dire Constitutional threat, they are basically rolling over in the face of it. Indeed, if they don’t exercise maximum resistance now, barring a lucky break in the courts later, there may be little they can do to stop it.

The Hill reports this morning that even if Republicans were to refuse to fund DHS, it would be unlikely to stop Obama’s executive action. Here’s why:

It’s unclear how much weight the threat of withholding funding would carry. Eighty-five percent of DHS employees continued to work during last year’s 16-day shutdown because they were funded with mandatory funds or deemed “essential” to national security or public safety, according to figures the Congressional Research Service (CRS) tracked down for GOP lawmakers.
Only 15 percent of DHS employees were furloughed in last year’s shutdown, the CRS found. On top of that, some 90 percent of the department’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency key to implementing Obama’s executive action, continued operating.
Some rank-and-file Republicans are worried that Obama could declare all DHS workers “essential” and keep them on the job — then simply pay them once a funding deal is reached.

Putting aside the political perils Republicans might face in shutting down the Department of Homeland Security — is that something Republicans really want to risk taking blame for? — this tactic may not even work in practical terms. What this means is that conservatives are probably right to argue that the only way to block this action through funding fights is to attach a “rider” de-authorizing or defunding it to the measure funding the government. And GOP leaders don’t want to do that, since it could result in a government shutdown, a fight they don’t want to risk.

This suggests that perhaps the smartest means Republicans have left to block this move on deportations is the course of action they have always refused to take: Legislate. If Republicans don’t like this exercise of authority, they can pass something rolling back that authority. (Congress has created this authority in statute, and it can always take it away.) Alternatively, they can pass a series of immigration reforms of their own (border security, etc.), include in that package something rolling back Obama’s action, and try to pick off some Democrats to support it. That might help Republicans in a public debate over the action.

Of course, this form of legislative counter-thrust would represent a more conventional response to Obama’s action, implicitly underscoring that perhaps it isn’t quite the flagrant, menacing abuse of power they’re suggesting it is. Given that GOP leaders have condemned the action in terms every bit as frightful as those employed by conservatives, it’s understandable that the latter might expect the former to mount maximum resistance to it. That GOP leaders aren’t doing so suggests perhaps they don’t really see it as quite the lawless power grab they claim.


* LEFTY REBELLION ON BUDGET LIKELY TO FIZZLE: Elizabeth Warren and other liberal Dems have come out against the bill funding the government because of measures slipped in that would dilute Wall Street regulations and campaign finance limits. But the Post reports today that House GOP leaders think it will pass, anyway, that House Dem leaders are not mobilizing members to vote against it, and that the White House has said it might support it even with the controversial provisions added.

So it seems likely the left’s opposition will not stop it.

* HILLARY CHALLENGED FROM LEFT ON NATIONAL SECURITY: This is interesting: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is mulling a challenge to Hillary Clinton, is now doing what Clinton has refrained from doing, i.e., calling for prosecutions of torturers revealed by the Senate torture report:

“I hope that the Justice Department might reconsider and appoint a special prosecutor…I think there needs to be some accountability so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Clinton has supported the report’s release but has opposed prosecutions. It’s unclear whether anyone can gain traction against her, but many Dem activists are suspicious of her hawkish tendencies, and this perhaps foreshadows that a challenge from the left could force some national security debate.

* WILL WE TORTURE AGAIN? E.J. Dionne’s column notes that one thing that has been revealed by the torture report’s release is that there is not consensus behind the idea that torture is unacceptable:

One would like to think that this is now a consensus view, and it is the formal position of our government. But the pushback…makes clear that many involved in “the program,” as they so delicately call this departure from our own norms, would do it all over again.

As I reported yesterday, Congress could codify in law Obama’s executive order banning torture, making it harder for this to happen again. Even if this will never pass, it’s worth pushing to put lawmakers on record for/against torture.

* LAWSUITS GEAR UP TO BLOCK ACTION ON DEPORTATIONS: Remember Joe Arpaio, the notorious Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona? He has filed a lawsuit to block Obama’s action to shield millions from deportations, and it will be heard in a U.S. District Court in Washington this month, potentially leading to a preliminary injunction that could temporarily block the action. The party of Joe Arpaio…

As worrisome as anything is that our parties themselves are sorting out by race. Democrats find their support among whites — especially working-class whites— slipping…Especially in the South, white voters are moving steadily more toward voting for and identifying with the Republican Party, while nonwhites…are heavily Democratic….right now it is possible to see a future where the GOP is clearly and distinctly a white party, while Democrats are clearly a majority-minority party.

As Ornstein notes, one mitigating factor is that pro-Dem demographic shifts in some Southern states — Virgina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia — could ultimately leave the GOP little choice but to broaden its appeal to non-whites.

* HILLARY LEADS CHRISTIE IN NEW JERSEY: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Chris Christie in his home state of New Jersey by 50-39. Obviously polling this early doesn’t tell us much of anything. Still, this is fun: New Jersey residents say by 53-40 that Christie would not make a good president.

* AND RAND PAUL TELLS GOP TO BACK OFF ON POT: Rand Paul comes out against House GOP efforts to use the budget bill to undercut a pot-legalization initiative in Washington, D.C.:

“I believe in more local autonomy on that. I think Colorado, the District, most localities should be able to make that decision for themselves.”

But GOP Rep. Andy Harris, a prime mover of the anti-pot initiative, has other ideas: D.C. residents can just move out.