The tea party and establishment wings of the House Republican caucus are already splitting over how to respond to President Barack Obama’s promised executive actions on immigration reform, which could be issued as soon as next week.
The big question is: Should Republicans be willing to shut down the government to block Obama’s unilateral moves on immigration?
The far right believes they have the 2014 election outcomes, and therefore popular sentiment, on their side. But leadership sounds more cautious about wading into another showdown with the president after last year’s shutdown left the Republican brand tarnished.
“Our goal here is to stop the president from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution. It’s not to shut down the government.,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters Thursday, though he added that “all options are on the table” and “no decisions have been made.”
“Every administration needs this, needs that, needs all kinds of things,” Boehner said. “If (Obama) wants to go off on his own, there are things he’s just not going to get.”
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also said on Thursday when asked about the prospect of a government shutdown over Obama’s immigration actions: “We will not be shutting down the government or threatening to default on the debt.” McConnell used a similar line last week in his press conference after the election.
But how they’ll pull that off while appeasing their more conservative members hankering for a fight will be an early test for the new Republican leadership.
More than 50 Republican lawmakers signed a letter Thursday circulated by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) that urged Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY) to defund any executive actions on immigration by including language blocking its funding in upcoming government funding bills.
They specifically singled out “current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside the scope prescribed by Congress.” According to the New York Times, Obama’s planned actions would give work permits to up to 3.3 million undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens or legal residents. And as many as five million people could be protected from deportation in total.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), an influential member of the tea party caucus, told reporters Thursday that the election should embolden Republicans to face off with Obama. He was one of the signees of Salmon’s letter (reprinted below).
“No one ran on getting along with the president,” he said. “That’ll be the difficulty if folks turn around and do a 180 and say, ‘Oh now we’re going to compromise with the president.”
Huelskamp said that “nobody wants a shutdown,” but then he placed the responsibility on Obama if one occurred.
“We don’t control that. That’s the president,” he said. “Is the president going to shut down the government over a failure to fund an amnesty proposal? I think the House will stand up, and perhaps even the Senate, and say, ‘No funding for amnesty.’ Then would the president shut the government down?”
“The House pretty clearly isn’t going to fund amnesty,” he concluded.
But other members of the House leadership sounded more hesitant about flirting with a shutdown over immigration.
“I think our leaders have been pretty clear that it would be a mistake for the president to use executive action in a lame-duck session, and I think it would have consequences for the president’s relationship with the Congress going forward,” House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp (R-MI) told TPM Thursday.
But pressed on the proposal by his colleagues to cut off funding for any legalization action taken by the president — and thereby inviting the possibility of a government shutdown — Camp was less enthusiastic, though he didn’t outright dismiss it.
“I think that we’re going to have all options on the table and not rule anything out,” he said. “I don’t think a shutdown is a good idea. I didn’t think it was a good idea in ’95. I didn’t think it was a good idea last time. That’s really not something that lends itself to a solution.”