Whether Republicans can trust President Obama to faithfully implement an immigration bill – any immigration bill – they help push through Congress has emerged as one of the core debates in the GOP about whether to move forward this year.
With Obama using his State of the Union address to double down on his push for even more executive authority to implement his agenda, even top proponents of a big immigration bill, like House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have conceded Obama’s actions are a major concern.
But as Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans push forward on legislation despite those concerns, it’s notable that their public statements undermine the notion of Obama as even a potentially trustworthy partner.
On a range of issues, top Republicans have indicated that Obama is arrogant and lawless.
Regarding Obama’s executive abuses, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in July 2013–responding to Obama’s claims that the IRS and other scandals were “phony scandals”–that the administration’s “arrogance of power” has led to an “erosion of trust” in government.
In May 2013, Speaker John Boehner said the IRS scandal, Benghazi, and the Department of Justice’s targeting of reporters shows that the “arrogance of power that we see in this administration” is something that “raises some very serious questions.”
About Obama’s legally questionable recess appointments of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) officials, Boehner said in January 2012 it was an “extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab by President Obama that defies centuries of practice and the legal advice of his own Justice Department.”
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) said in July 2011 that Obama’s push to circumvent Congress using executive power to close the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center was troubling. “This action to do an end run around specific Congressional prohibitions on the transferring of terrorists detainees to the United States for civilian trials is part of an outrageous pattern of Executive Branch overreach, arrogance towards Congress and flouting of the Constitution,” Schock said in a release then.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-CA) has also expressed concern over Obama’s executive overreach. “President Obama has often chosen to unilaterally circumvent the law under the guise of executive authority,” Cantor wrote in an October 2013 op-ed slamming the president for refusing to negotiate with Congress.
Referencing Operation Fast and Furious and those legally questionable recess appointments after a hearing at which Attorney General Eric Holder testified, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) said in a February 2012 press release that he is worried about the administration’s executive overreach. “By denying Congress its constitutional power and responsibility to provide advice and consent on appointments, the checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches have become null and void,” Lankford, now the number five in House GOP leadership as the chairman of the GOP Policy Committee, said back then. “These latest actions are a dangerous consolidation of executive power and unacceptable in an attempt to score political points.”
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in early December 2013, Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that the Obama administration has unilaterally engaged in selective enforcement of laws on all matters. “From Obamacare to immigration, the current administration is picking and choosing which laws to enforce,” Goodlatte said, adding:
But the Constitution does not confer upon the President the ‘executive authority’ to disregard the separation of powers by unilaterally waiving, suspending, or revising the laws. It is a bedrock principle of constitutional law that the President must ‘faithfully execute’ Acts of Congress. The President cannot refuse to enforce a law simply because he dislikes it.
Later in his statement at that hearing, Goodlatte referenced how these selective enforcement concerns with the administration present a major–perhaps insurmountable–hurdle in the way of House GOP members, including all of the aforementioned ones, who want an immigration legislative package in 2014. He specifically cited how Obama has already proven he will selectively enforce immigration laws, too. “For instance, while Congress is currently debating how to reform our immigration laws, the President effectively enacted the DREAM Act himself,” Goodlatte said. He did so, he continued, “by ordering immigration officials to stop enforcing the immigration laws against certain unlawful immigrants.”
Cantor, like Goodlatte, said in his op-ed that Obama has specifically proven he will selectively enforce immigration laws. “President Obama has used executive orders to unilaterally change U.S. immigration laws,” Cantor wrote in October.
Even strong proponents of amnesty in the House GOP conference openly acknowledge that Obama’s executive overreaches are a hindrance to their efforts.
In early 2014, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) said there “is a lack of trust in this president.” Denham is probably the loudest supporter of immigration reform in the House GOP conference and was the first Republican to cosponsor the House Democrats’ immigration bill.
“We have to make sure that any bills that become law cannot be subjected to any executive order by this president,” Denham said about immigration legislation.
In October 2013 and also in the context of the immigration debate, amnesty proponent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said that Obama’s executive overreach is a major concern to Republicans. “I’m hearing a lot that you’ve got a president you can’t trust or negotiate with,” Diaz-Balart said. “That’s pretty much a consensus among Republicans.”
Ryan, the loudest cheerleader for amnesty from a House GOP leadership perch, said Obama’s executive overreaches present a problem for amnesty advocates in the House. “Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don’t trust the president to enforce the law,” Ryan said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
The lack of trust in the administration has already caused some members of the Republican Party to outright walk away from immigration negotiations. Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID), John Carter (R-TX), and Sam Johnson (R-TX) each left the House version of the “Gang of Eight” at one point or another in 2013, noting their distrust in the administration as a major reason for abandoning negotiations.
As the question of whether Obama is trustworthy emerges as the center of the immigration debate, it is worth noting that, across the board, Republicans have indicated that no, he is not.