President Obama said in a video that he will lay out his proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration system Thursday and will travel to Las Vegas following that announcement to rally support for his initiative on Friday.
“Tomorrow night I’m going to be announcing here from the White House some steps I can take to start fixing our broken immigration system,” Obama said in a video posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon.
“Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken. Unfortunately Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long,” Obama said. “So what’ I’m going to be laying out is the things I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem.”
According to a senior Democrat familiar with the plans, Obama will announce on Thursday that he is providing temporary protections to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants. His orders will make up to 4 million undocumented immigrants eligible for temporary protective status and provide relief to another 1 million through other means.
In a blow to activists advocating on behalf of young immigrant families, there will be no guaranteed protections for the parents of so-called Dreamers — children protected by Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — nor for immigrant agricultural workers, said the Democrat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Obama has invited senior lawmakers to the White House for dinner Wednesday night so that he can explain his plans to use executive authority to change the nation’s immigration laws, according to several congressional aides.
Only Democratic leaders — Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and the leaders of the congressional Asian, Black and Hispanic caucuses — were asked to come to the meeting, said the aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that Obama will “no doubt threaten a shutdown” with his upcoming executive action on immigration.
“[T]hat seems to be the one card he repeatedly plays — but Congress can authorize funding for agencies of government one at a time,” Cruz (Tex.) wrote in an op-ed published in Politico Magazine. “If the President is unwilling to accepting [sic] funding for, say, the Department of Homeland Security without his being able to unilaterally defy the law, he alone will be responsible for the consequences.”
Other leading congressional Republicans pleaded with their colleagues Wednesday to tread carefully, underscoring the mounting concerns among party officials over the simmering outrage from conservative lawmakers and its political consequences, particularly with the Hispanic community.
“Republicans have to handle this in a sensitive way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). He warned that any Republican who speaks of impeaching the president over immigration would be shunned by most Republicans and “considered pretty erratic and pretty excessive.”
Two Republicans who are mulling presidential bids, Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), also cautioned their colleagues to focus on fighting the policy, rather than on fiery rebuttals that could alienate the voters the party is seeking to win over ahead of the 2016 campaign.
“Pass some things,” Paul said, when asked about how the party should react. He suggested an expansion of work visas as an example of one potential piece of legislation that could highlight Republicans’ commitment to addressing immigration issues and to governing. “I think we can still do some good things. I think we have to fight him that way,” he said.
“No one in our leadership team is interested in shutting down the government,” Portman said. “Many of us believe the immigration system is broken and we’d like to fix it, and we’d like to work with the president on that.”
Said outgoing National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.): “It’s important for us to have an agenda that’s positive for the country.”
But several conservatives seemed to shrug off the guidance and said any anger from fellow Republicans and grass-roots activists was justified. They added that they would likely push to use an upcoming government spending bill as a way of countering the president by defunding related immigration programs.
“This is presidential overreach of monumental proportions,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “It’s a direct erosion of congressional power. . . . I think Congress needs to and will resist and do so in a way that is responsible.”
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats closely watched the unfolding Republican scene, sensing that their beleaguered party could score political points if the GOP response was seen as over-the-top by some voters.
“The road to the White House comes through the [Hispanic] community in critical states,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “Unless Republicans do that, they’re in trouble.”
Obama said he will travel to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas Friday, where he will discuss and rally support for his plan.
Advocates began preparing events to promote the administration’s immigration policy.
“We hear there will be a prime time Thursday evening announcement [to preview] and full unveiling in Vegas on Friday,” immigration advocate Dawn Le told other activists in an e-mail, which was later inadvertently sent to a group of reporters Wednesday morning. “Can folks begin to work and plan watch parties for Thursday and/or Friday? Unclear whether Thursday night content will be what is ‘celebratory,’ but Friday will be where we need a lot of energy guaranteed.”
Obama launched his push for immigration reform in January 2013 in Las Vegas, outlining a plan that would allow many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship.
The president’s decision to speak at the city’s Del Sol High School highlights the administration’s intensified push to convince Latinos that the Democratic Party is committed to addressing the dilemma of millions of undocumented immigrants. Obama is preparing to use his executive authority to expand temporary protections to millions of these individuals, as well as to broaden visa programs for highly skilled technology workers and perhaps also stiffen security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
During an appearance at the National Press Club Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Obama will announce “in the coming days . . . [a] set of comprehensive reforms, within our existing legal authorities, to fix our broken immigration system.”
He did not specify the actions Obama will take but did say they will include steps to further secure the southwestern border of the United States. Administration lawyers have concluded that executive action on the issue is legal and within the president’s authority, he said, despite intense opposition from Republicans.
“Legislative action is always preferable,” Johnson said. “But we have waited for Congress to act, and the Congress has not acted. The president has waited.”
Johnson said the administration has concluded it has “wide latitude” to take action. “It can’t be that we’re not allowed to lift a finger to fix our broken immigration system,” he said. “And we will.”
Congressional Republicans have warned Obama that he risks undermining the prospects for cooperation on legislation in the final two years of his presidency if he takes action on immigration.
The decision to speak in Las Vegas could also bolster the political standing of Reid, who said in an interview with Univision on Tuesday that when it came to expanding protections for undocumented immigrants, “I think it should be done now.”
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, wrote in an e-mail that even as Obama acted on his own to break the stalemate on the issue, Republicans would still have a chance to legislate.
“While executive action is not ideal, it accomplishes four things: Stabilizes our workforce, prioritizes law enforcement, protects families and puts congressional Republicans in the driver’s seat going into 2015,” Noorani wrote. “They have an incredible opportunity to get credit for fixing America’s immigration system.”
With Obama likely on the verge of making an announcement, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the soon-to-be majority leader, expressed confidence Wednesday that congressional Republicans will extend funding for the federal government, which is set to expire next month, even if the president moves to overhaul the immigration system and some conservatives call for a spending showdown.
But in a sign that the GOP strategy is still being formulated, McConnell did not specify the framework and length of possible funding legislation. Republican leaders in the House and Senate are still mulling a variety of options, all while hoping to avoid a politically damaging shutdown.
“We have two goals here at the end of the session: fund the government and avoid retroactive tax increases. I’m confident that we’ll do both,” McConnell said in a brief exchange at the Capitol.
Other congressional Republicans warned again that Obama risks his relationship with a GOP-controlled Capitol Hill if he acts.
“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue — and many others,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an e-mail.
In an effort to cast doubts on the legality of Obama’s decision, GOP aides have been circulating a list of 22 times the president has said publicly that he doesn’t believe he has the authority to act through executive action to change immigration laws.
Tom Hamburger, Jerry Markon and Robert Costa contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly attributed strategy comments to AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser rather than immigration advocate Dawn Le.