Fresh off a huge midterm victory, Republican leaders are facing strong conservative pressure to return to brinkmanship and threaten a government shutdown to stop President Barack Obama’s upcoming executive actions on immigration.
Eager to avoid another fruitless shutdown like the one in 2013, which was over Obamacare and achieved little other than damage the GOP brand, senior Republicans are looking for ways to pull conservatives back from the ledge and avoid using the government funding process to overturn Obama’s actions.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sounded a note of caution on Tuesday, saying Obama still has the veto pen, when TPM asked if Congress should use the power of the purse to stop his immigration actions.
“It’s always appropriate to use the power of the purse. But it’s important to remember the president has an important trump card. It’s called the veto pen,” McConnell told reporters. “So there will be ongoing negotiations in various efforts to fund the government both this year and next year about priorities. This is not unusual.”
McConnell’s office pointed to a Gallup poll that showed a 10-point drop in the GOP’s approval ratings after the 16-day government shutdown in 2013. It took roughly a year for the party to recover.
In an opinion piece for Roll Call, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) urged colleagues to help pass government funding bill through September 2015 “in a responsible, transparent and pragmatic way, without the specter of government shutdowns or the lurching, wasteful and unproductive budgeting caused by temporary stopgap measures.”
Instead of conditioning government funding on a reversal of Obama’s executive actions, Rogers has floated the idea of using a option called “rescission” to retroactively eliminate budget authority for his immigration moves after they’re announced. But conservatives are skeptical of that idea because Obama would have less incentive not to veto such a bill.
Conservative lawmakers, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), are pushing for a short-term funding bill when money expires on Dec. 11, and then to use the budget process in the new GOP Congress to block Obama’s “executive amnesty” proposal, as opponents call it.
While Republican leaders aren’t pointedly ruling out a shutdown standoff over immigration, their preferred outcome is to hold committee hearings, floor debate and pass legislation under regular order to overturn Obama’s actions, which he has promised to announce by the end of the year. House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office has also floated the possibility of challenging Obama’s immigration actions in court, as Republicans are already planning to do on his implementation of Obamacare.
“There are a lot of options we’re considering,” Boehner (R-OH) told reporters on Tuesday, declining to provide any hints on what Republicans will do.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) said Congress “has to push back” against Obama’s immigration actions, but urged against a government shutdown.
“I think there’s other methods. I’ve never been a big fan of shutting down the government,” he told reporters. “I’ve never been a big fan of using the CR [continuing resolution] process to try to get your way, whether it’s defunding Obamacare or whatever, because it’s generally ineffective. … We saw that last year. People just get very, very frustrated with that.”
John Feehery, a longtime Republican strategist who supports immigration reform, said the GOP should challenge Obama’s unilateral actions, but warned against threatening a shutdown.
“The problem I have with that is it’s not going to pass,” he said. If Republicans go the funding route, he warned, “people are automatically reminded of what happened in the government shutdown, which was not our proudest moment. The president is not going to sign that.”
Feehery also said Republicans ought to tread lightly with Hispanic voters, who were largely a non-factor in the 2014 midterm elections but could play a huge role in the 2016 race for the White House.
“We have to be careful,” he said, “on whether we’re going to risk alienating that bloc.”