The next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said President Barack Obama's expected executive actions would go beyond the dreams of even King George III.
As Democrats were gathering at the White House for a meeting with Obama ahead of the formal announcement of the immigration moves in a Thursday evening address to the nation , Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was on the floor of the Senate speaking about a series of administration actions that Republicans have found objectionable, ranging from the use of recess appointments to the transfer of five Taliban prisoners out of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
"It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of the American people is at stake. That's what the framers believed," Grassley said, before quoting from James Madison in Federalist 51.
"The framers would also have recognized the specific kinds of executive abuses reflected in President Obama's mass amnesty. They would have referred to them as the royal's suspending and dispensing powers. But, George III didn't even try to abuse colonists with these powers. Why? Because parliament had denied them to the king a hundred years before the American Revolution," Grassley said, recalling the rollback under the Glorious Revolution of 1688. "You see, the kings of England had traditionally asserted the power to suspend the operation of certain laws or to grant dispensation prospectively, excusing particular individuals from compliance. But, as deference to the king's authorities eroded, these powers became more controversial."
"When the framers met in Philadelphia, these were abuses long since remedied in England. Instead the framers charged the president with the Constitutional duties to take care that the laws are faithfully executed," Grassley said, adding that the expected immigration moves Obama "is threatening to reassert royal powers that even the framers thought were long abolished."
Grassley, who is poised to lead the confirmation hearings next year for Obama's attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, expressed particular frustration about the responsiveness of the Justice Department to his queries as ranking member, citing a request for legal justifications for the Bergdahl matter.
"Now, it's six months later and the attorney general hasn't given me the courtesy of a response to my letter. We still don't know how the department justified the release of these detainees. We don't know the legal basis or the underlying effects that were relied upon," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "That just should not be acceptable to anyone, but sadly it's become commonplace in the Obama administration."
"It turns out that to this Justice Department, assisting me in their words 'to the fullest extent possible' is actually indistinguishable from ignoring my requests completely," Grassley said.
The Justice Department declined to comment when asked earlier Wednesday about whether legal opinions related to the president's decision-making on immigration executive action would be made available to the public in connection with the formal announcements Thursday and Friday. A White House official referred questions on the matter to the Justice Department, although Press Secretary Josh Earnest said some legal justification would be released Thursday.
"The Office of Legal Counsel doesn't appear to be providing independent legal advice to the president. It's simply rubber-stamping whatever he wants to do," Grassley said on the floor, in reference to earlier decisions. "So, it's cold comfort for the president to assure us that anything he will do is legal."
Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House contend that the moves on immigration will be compliant with the law, citing examples from past Republican administrations. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, one of the authors of the Senate-passed bipartisan immigration bill, made that case earlier Wednesday.
"Executive action on deportations is clearly lawful. Throughout our history, the government has decided who to prosecute — and who not to prosecute — based on law enforcement priorities and available resources. Past administrations ... have stopped the deportations of low-priority cases. Every President since Dwight Eisenhower has used his executive authority to improve our immigration system," the Illinois Democrat said. "For example, President George H.W. Bush issued a 'family fairness' policy that allowed 1.5 million people to apply for 'deferred action' and work permits. And the Supreme Court has affirmed that the federal government has broad authority to decide who to deport."
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is planning to attend an event with Obama Friday in Las Vegas touting the executive actions, has said likewise on multiple occasions this week. And talking points circulated by the White House to Congressional Democrats and obtained by CQ Roll Call indicate the theme of comparing Obama's actions to those taken in the past will continue.
"Over more than half a century, every president — Democratic or Republican — has used his legal authority to act on immigration. President Obama is now taking another common sense step," the document says.
Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.