The first battle over the direction of the GOP since Tuesday’s tidal wave election is quietly building as conservatives race to construct a plan to stop President Obama’s executive amnesty.
Huddling in Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) office Wednesday, top conservative aides sketched out a plan to include language prohibiting Obama from issuing employment permits to illegal aliens in an upcoming “omnibus” spending bill – and settling for a four-week stopgap bill if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid balks in the last days of his rule.
Under the plan, Republicans would come back with reinforcements in January to try again, likely needing six Democrats to join them to send the bill to Obama. If the president vetoed it, the GOP would pass another short-term bill while building momentum for a veto-override vote.
“This is an 80-20 issue. We’ve just been sent here in a historic sweep. If we don’t think we can win a debate with the White House on an 80-20 issue, then exactly what debate do we think we can win?” said a Senate GOP aide.
The plan cuts directly against the wishes of Speaker John Boehner and incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “clear the decks” of 2013 business to give the 114th Congress a fresh start. McConnell and other Republican senators have expressed a desire to pass a number of bipartisan economic packages to begin with to get some early victories under their belt before tackling more controversial matters.
“Lets kind of build on these successes before we get into the budget, which could be a little more contentious,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the incoming chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
Obama’s executive amnesty could instantly dismantle that plan on its own, and conservatives in the House and Senate are both working to prevent passage of a year’s worth of government spending only to see the president flout the law days later.
On a closed conference call with GOP lawmakers Thursday, for example, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) began the “open mic” section of the call by advocating for a short-term “continuing resolution” (CR) bill to give the GOP more leverage than an omnibus would.
However, the last speaker, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), expressed trepidation about setting a potential government shutdown in motion.
For the Senate in particular, the desire to begin work in January free of any must-pass “cliff” bills may be less about a reluctance to fight and more a zeal to legislate after suffering through years of doldrums in Reid’s Senate.
In interviews, Senate Republicans said there is pent-up demand to flex legislative muscles that have long atrophied and that ugly fights over Obamacare repeal and other issues are surely coming down the road.
There is also considerable concern, even despondence, over what Republicans can do to stop Obama from usurping the Constitution he seems bent on flouting.
“There’s not much we can do,” said Johnson, adding, “He just won’t act. You can’t defund the lack of action.”
Another view is that influencing Obama is a lost cause, so Republicans should focus their efforts on holding Senate Democrats politically accountable with roll call votes rather than trying valiantly to leverage major bills for incremental gains.
“It’s like a drug kingpin who leaves the country and says ‘you can’t catch me because I’m overseas.’ It’s like, well, your family is still here,” said a second aide who sketched out plans for politically excruciating votes for the Joe Manchins and Heidi Heitkamps of the upper chamber.
Obama and his aides are working to portray his executive amnesty as a choice for the GOP: rush to pass an amnesty bill and I’ll back off.
Boehner rejected the overture in a press conference today, saying executive action would end any chance of an immigration bill in the next Congress. “It’s as simple as that,” he said.
A McConnell aide also dismissed the ploy, saying, “nice try.”
However, Boehner said at the press conference he is still just as anxious to address immigration in the 114th as he was over the last two years, and that but for the border crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children streaming across the border, it might have happened.
Boehner is also set to introduce a plan he is calling “Pillars of the Renewed Majority,” he told colleagues on the closed conference call, about which little is known.
The plan gathering steam to fight Obama head-on over executive amnesty immediately addresses several concerns from the last major standoff that ended in shutdown just over a year ago.
First, the “ask” – language prohibiting government funding for employment permits – is targeted and small.
Second, Obama, set to enact amnesty by fiat, is the aggressor in this situation, poised to cross a line that even respected liberals have said causes them queasiness. Unlike Republicans calling for the repeal of a duly enacted law, it’s Obama who is unilaterally dismantling duly elected law.
Third, the GOP just annihilated Democrats at the ballot box, giving them additional currency, rather than, as in 2013, reeling from Obama’s reelection.
Democrats are also likely to be hampered by the fact that many of them campaigned on opposing Obama’s executive amnesty, putting them in a dicey situation were they now to oppose a bill that simply prevented funding for it.
In the initial volley, the House would send the one-year bill with the language attached. Reid would likely balk, prompting a four-week long “clean” rejoinder bill – we’ll see you in January with our eight reinforcements, Republicans would say.
To pass the bill then, Republicans would likely need six Democratic votes to achieve the 60 votes needed for cloture. Top candidates include Manchin, Heitkamp, Sens. Jon Tester, Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill. New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen also said she opposes executive amnesty in the campaign and even voted on a symbolic vote on the issue sponsored by Sessions.
If successful, Obama would be faced with signing the law into place and stopping his executive amnesty in its tracks or vetoing the bill weeks after a humiliating electoral defeat in part because of opposition to his executive amnesty.
“If we send Obama a bipartisan government funding bill in January that simply prohibits him from implementing executive amnesty and he vetoes that bill, he’ll be on the world’s smallest island of one,” the first GOP aide said.
Facing a veto, Republicans could pass another short-term bill to fund the government while driving support over several weeks to override it.
The battle, were it to commence, would be on an issue the public sides with Republicans by a roughly 80-20 margin. But there would undoubtedly be GOP doubts about how it would be perceived by the presidential electorate that reelected Obama.