President Obama on Sunday responded to Republican critics who have accused him of acting like an emperor with his recent immigration actions, repeating his challenge for Congress to “pass a bill.”
Meanwhile, Republican leaders spent the weekend trying to craft a viable political response to the president’s immigration moves as outrage among the most conservative GOP elements continued to boil.
During an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Obama said he would prefer to address immigration issues through bipartisan legislation. “It didn’t happen, because [Speaker John A. Boehner] didn’t call the bill for a vote in the House,” he insisted.
Host George Stephanopoulos challenged the president on 2012 campaign comments that suggested he did not have authority to stop deportations on his own.
“What is absolutely true is that we couldn’t solve the entire problem and still can’t solve the entire problem,” Obama replied. “But what we can do is to prioritize felons, criminals, recent arrivals, folks who are coming right at the border, and acknowledge that if somebody has been here for five years, they may have an American child or a legal permanent resident child — it doesn’t make sense for us to prioritize them.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has opposed a comprehensive immigration-law overhaul, said in an interview Sunday with The Washington Post that he and other tea party figures are rallying conservatives nationwide to oppose the president’s “executive amnesty.”
King announced that on Dec. 3, he will host a rally at noon on the west side of the Capitol to denounce the White House’s policy changes and pressure Boehner (R-Ohio) to respond as forcefully as possible. Invitations are already being sent out to conservative groups and to fellow lawmakers.
Another item at the top of King’s list: censuring Obama in the House.
“This is an open-border policy with a welcome mat,” King said. “It’s going to be a huge mess. We’re trying to light it up among our supporters and make sure the House rejects it. We cut off funding, and we censure the president.”
He added: “I’m troubled by the speaker’s push to do an omnibus spending bill. It seems like he is reaching to try to avoid a confrontation with the president. We’re going to fight back.”
Other conservatives reiterated Sunday that the GOP should not shy away from brinkmanship.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a potential 2016 presidential candidate, recommended blocking the consideration of Obama’s federal nominees, outside of national security posts, and using the budgetary process to thwart the implementation of the administration’s changes to immigration policy.
“In my view, the majority leader should decline to bring to the floor of the Senate a nomination other than vital national security positions,” Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The second big check we have got is the power of the purse, and we should fund, one at a time, the critical priorities of the federal government.”
Cruz’s efforts could have consequences for the White House, potentially holding up the confirmations of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch and others, as well as for congressional Republican leaders, who have not endorsed Cruz’s approach.
By challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the soon-to-be majority leader, Cruz in effect sent a warning shot to the GOP leadership, which remains largely undecided about what exactly they will do to counter the president.
Cruz signaled that the responses floated by some members of the party’s brass — including possibly suing the administration and rescinding appropriations for immigration programs once the GOP takes control of both chambers next year — may not be aggressive enough for those conservatives spoiling for showdowns that would stall the White House at every turn.
Beyond Capitol Hill, conservative leaders pleaded with congressional Republicans to consider articles of impeachment against Obama and weigh using budget maneuvers to confront the president, even if it leads to the second government shutdown in two years.
“It is idiocy for Republican leaders to constantly repeat that they are taking the power of the purse and impeachment off the table,” said Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative activist. “Those are the very tools the Constitution bestows upon Congress to rein in a lawless president.”
House GOP aides said they expected Boehner to hold off on announcing any bills or other actions until after members return to Washington following the Thanksgiving holiday.
But in phone calls and e-mails, top Republicans on Saturday tried to advance an appropriations package that would also extend government funding past the Dec. 11 expiration date, signaling the leadership’s eagerness to avoid a fiscal standoff over immigration in the remainder of the lame-duck session.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said appropriators “remain engaged in negotiations with our House counterparts.”
“The worst option would be to force a government shutdown,” Collins said. “That would hurt a lot of people and undermine our message that we can govern responsibly. I’m confident that if we pass an appropriations bill, we can come back next year when we start the budget process again and put limitations on particular [immigration] agencies that would curb abuses in those areas.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said Sunday that Republicans don’t plan to shut down the government.
“We are not going to shut the government down, but we are going to shut down the president and his actions as it pertains to granting amnesty to 5 million people,” McCaul, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Also under consideration is an expansion of the lawsuit against the Obama administration’s use of executive authority that was filed Friday. The lawsuit focuses on the Affordable Care Act, but Boehner has broached the idea of adding an immigration challenge to the complaint, according to House Republicans close to him. At a luncheon last week, he told allies that litigation would almost certainly be part of the GOP playbook on immigration. But this lawsuit has already encountered challenges, and it could take months or years to be settled.
In the ABC interview that aired Sunday, Stephanopoulos questioned Obama’s defense that Republican presidents have used executive action to address immigration, noting that previous administrations exercised that authority only after Congress passed bipartisan bills.
Obama argued that those presidents implemented actions that went beyond the legislation that Congress had passed.
In his follow-up, Stephanopoulos asked whether the next president should be able to use executive action to ignore tax laws and effectively lower taxes.
“The reason that we have to do proprietorial discretion in immigration is that we know that we are not even close to being able to deal with the folks who have been here a long time,” Obama said. “Everybody knows, including Republicans, that we’re not going to deport 11 million people.”