The White House must have thought Republicans in Congress would fall in line behind Speaker John Boehner and let President Barack Obama do what he’s “gotta do” on executive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. Politico reports that as Republicans have instead organized behind incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to oppose the President, the Democrats and White House—including Obama himself—are showing signs of weakness.
Obama showed his frustration during a press conference in Myanmar on Friday, Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Carrie Budoff Brown wrote late Friday night.
“They [Republicans] have the ability to fix the system,” Obama said. “What they don’t have the ability to do is to expect me to stand by with a broken system in perpetuity.”
Obama added that his vision of “immigration reform” is something that “is way overdue. And we’ve been talking about it for 10 years now and it’s been consistently stalled.”
Obama frustration is not the only problem the Democrats are facing. Democrats are in widespread disagreement over whether he should declare an executive amnesty for illegal aliens. And even those who support it are infighting over the rollout plan—when it should happen and how.
“Ever since Obama decided to delay taking unilateral action until after the election and before a self-imposed deadline at the end of the year, people close to the process said they didn’t expect the president to act before Thanksgiving,” Brown and Kim wrote about the chaos inside the White House. “When the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough in September, the lawmakers left with the impression that nothing would happen until December. Before the election, the White House had set an internal deadline of next Friday to ready the proposal, but remained undecided on when to roll it out.”
Kim and Brown quoted liberal activist Angela Kelley, an “immigration strategist” with the Center for American Progress, who details for Politico the uncertainty liberals are having—even ones as close to the White House as she is.
“The conversation has evolved even from a few days ago,” Kelley said, adding that the White House—which recently brought CAP head John Podesta in as a senior adviser to the president—has completely cut off the liberal base from insight about what’s going on.
“Right now, the Republicans, they’re able to define it however they want,” Kelley said. “It is galvanizing the other side. All we’ve got is drips and drabs from newspaper stories.”
There have been multiple reports in recent days—most notably from Fox News and the New York Times—which have estimated, based on senior Obama administration sources, that the number of illegal aliens who would get executive amnesty is close to 5 million. But Brown and Kim cited a “senior administration official” to write that the 5 million number may not be accurate, because it “was at the upper limit of what the president is considering.”
The reason why uncertainty and weakness are emanating from the White House, the Politico writers explained, is because Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill seem to be lining up behind Sessions’ two major strategies. The first big one is on government funding. The second big battle is over the nomination of outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder’s replacement.
Rather than lining up behind the strategy from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY)—which would have Republicans support a long-term omnibus funding deal through the end of the 2015 fiscal year, thus funding executive amnesty—Republicans are supporting Sessions’ plans on government funding battles.
“RNC Chair Reince Priebus pledged to voters: ‘we can’t allow it to happen and we won’t let it happen,’” Sessions said in a Friday morning statement. “Now we must follow through on that pledge. Congress’ most basic Constitutional power is the funding power. We use it all the time to direct how appropriated money can and cannot be spent. A long-term funding bill that does not deal with President Obama’s unconstitutional overreach, adopted before a single newly elected Republican is sworn-in, would be to acquiesce to the President’s unlawful action.”
Sessions specifically wants to block funding for the production of work permits, photo IDs, and Social Security numbers for illegal aliens.
“This executive amnesty scheme will give work permits, photo IDs, and Social Security numbers to millions of illegal immigrants—taking jobs directly from unemployed Americans. Congress must not fund this effort,” Session said. “If Reid will not take up a long-term bill with these restrictions, then we should pass a short term CR so our new majority can include such language after it takes office.”
The Washington Post’s Bob Costa noted in a late Friday piece that House Republicans are beginning to line up behind Sessions’ strategy—after previously considering other options that were less serious, like a lawsuit against the president. As Sessions has won over hefty Republicans like Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA)—who’s expected to beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in that state’s Dec. 6 runoff—the Rogers strategy has been falling by the wayside.
Brown and Kim wrote that the funding battle—if it goes Sessions’ way—is the “factor most likely” to keep Obama from making a “quick announcement” of executive amnesty.
“Conservatives are rumbling about using the must-pass measure to block the immigration action—a threat that is worrying House GOP leadership,” they wrote. “And some Senate Democrats quietly acknowledge that a sweeping order on deportations would likely make the funding bill even harder to pass.”
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has even pushed Obama to wait until after a funding deal happens before doing his executive order out of fear that it will blow up dealings.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), who has spearheaded a letter with more than 50 signers calling on appropriators to block funding for executive amnesty, told Politico it would be irresponsible for Congressional Republicans not to use the tool.
“At the end of the day, we have that tool,” Salmon said. “To not use it would be malpractice, I think.”
At the end of their article, Kim and Brown wrote that the administration is worried—but not too much—about Republicans’ response to the Obama executive amnesty order.
“Senior administration officials have said they’re concerned about the Republican backlash, but they’ve concluded from the election that voters want results from Washington,” they wrote. “The positive response this week to Obama’s landmark deal with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions, officials said, supports their conclusion that Obama can’t hold back because of fears over how the unilateral actions would be received by Republicans.”
The other battle line Sessions is drawing on the executive amnesty is over Loretta Lynch’s nomination to replace Holder. That effort is gaining traction too, as even incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed it.
“Do not underestimate—for a second—the capacity of this nomination to get caught up in the executive action,” an anonymous Senate Republican aide told Politico of that fight.
This past summer, after GOP leaders initially resisted fighting the Democrats on the border crisis, they eventually got behind a Sessions-led battle to include language from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) defunding executive amnesty in a package that passed the House right before August recess. The finally unified GOP at the time sent the Democrats into disarray that night, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi actually chasing a Republican across the House floor, wagging her finger in his face to yell at him. It remains to be seen what will happen with this battle, but the results might be the same if Republicans get behind Sessions’ leadership on the issue yet again. And the White House seems to know that.