With only hours before President Obama is expected to announce a major unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill appear flummoxed at what they might do to stop him from going forward.
“We’ve been trying to figure out what leverage we have. And we’re all finding it very difficult to actually stop the president in the next two months,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN).
Iowa Republican Steve King, however, did not lack ideas. Speaking to a scrum of reporters off the House floor, he offered a a specific, three-step plan on how to respond in the weeks following the announcement.
The first step, King proposes, would be a resolution expressing disapproval of Obama’s order and his authority to issue it. “Then, we’ll see how the president acts. If he reacts to that and decides that Congress is actually going to control the president, then maybe we don’t need to do anything else,” he said.
With Obama presumably unswayed by the non-binding legislation, the House would then move to censure the president, a formal act of reprobation short of impeachment. Censure has no formal articulation in the Constitution but has been used a handful of times throughout U.S. History.
“That’s more personal, it’s more direct. It holds him accountable for the anticipation that he will again violate the oath office,” King said.
The third step is to use Congress’ power of the purse to “cut off all funding to implement or enforce any unconstitutional executive decision,” something that presumably must come in January once the next Congress has convened and Republicans control the Senate.
King said that a funding battle needn’t occur over the entire swath of appropriations bills: “It would be possible for the House to go forward on some of the appropriation bills that don’t effect our border security and enforcement and send that over to the Senate and see what they will do to try to keep this government operating.”
King’s plan is the latest proposal offered by Republicans scrambling to determine their response to what will be a significant departure from precedent in size and scope for unilateral presidential action.
With angst building among conservatives about Obama’s order, senior GOP Republicans are warning instead of their own party’s potential overreach.
“Thoughtfully,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner’s, when asked how Republicans should respond. For emphasis, he repeated the word twice.
“What we need to do here is be careful about changing the issue. The issue is what the president is doing, both the way he is doing it and what he’s doing. If we start playing the CR game or the government shutdown, that actually changes the discussion and it penalizes the rest of the American people for what the president does. We ought to be thinking of ways to shut down the president not shutdown the government,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a senior member of the appropriations panel.
Lawmakers and aides are wrestling with technical issues, including how to potentially defund immigration agencies that operate in part from the revenue from fees rather than congressional appropriations.
Another idea floated Wednesday by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) has received pushback from the conservatives who have criticized it as ineffectual.
Rogers proposed using “recsission” to pull back funding authorized by an omnibus in the next few weeks once the next Congress convenes.
Although Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) said following the meeting that Rogers had claimed to colleagues a recission bill would not need Obama’s signature for enactment, a Rogers aide disputed that.
Rogers plan, the aide said, was for a recission bill to be attached to Obama’s legislative priorities in the next Congress.
GOP lawmakers are also reluctant to respond given that they do not know with certainty what the executive order will entail.
“Ok, ask me that question when I know what the executive order is,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy when asked how severe a threat the act would be to the Constitution.
“I’m still waiting to see what he actually says before I react to it. I don’t have powers of prophecy,” said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA). “The sentiment is: he’d better not.”
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), the Democrats’ most outspoken proponent of amnesty, said Republicans will have plenty of time to respond.
“The best thing we can do is for Republicans to stop whining and crying after their incredible victory in the polls and start legislating. It will take maybe four months between tomorrow, the president making the announcement, and the first day somebody is eligible for a benefit. Four months before you can go to a government agency and apply for a benefit under what the president states tomorrow night. During those four months — have you seen the calendar for January? We’re in all of January,” he said.
Caroline May contributed reporting.