Hours before President Barack Obama finally presses the "go" button on executive actions to change the nation's immigration laws, House Republicans were not any closer to coalescing around a strategy to fight back.
House GOP leaders have made it clear they want to pursue some legislative response to block Obama's orders, which Democrats say they should have expected after stonewalling consideration in the 113th congress of Senate-passed immigration overhaul legislation.
"All options are on the table," Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Boehner and his allies haven't, however, figured out how to pacify a rank-and-file that would like to tie the president's hands by attaching some kind of defunding language to a must-pass piece of legislation. The next vehicle in which to do that is the omnibus appropriations bill — or a continuing resolution — which must be signed into law to prevent a lapse in federal funding on Dec. 11. With Congress in recess next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, it will return with just a few days left to come up with a plan to satisfy enough lawmakers to avert the second government shutdown in just over one year.
Their first problem is, any policy rider attached to a spending measure that would block immigration executive orders is liable to get met with a veto.
Furthermore, even if they weren't running head-on into a veto threat, appropriators don't think the tact would work.
Though no one has seen the full language of the executive order, conventional wisdom holds that the agency doing the bulk of the implementation would be the United States Customs and Immigration Services. Appropriators say that because USCIS is funded by fees, it is not an entity that Congress has the authority to defund. That means that if lawmakers forced a government shutdown over Obama's unwillingness to budge on his executive order, implementation would continue while all other federal entities went into a standstill.
A GOP appropriations aide explained that Congress could pass an authorization bill to take away USCIS's ability to collect fees, thereby cutting off its funding mechanism to be able to operate — but that bill could not be attached to an appropriations bill.
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, D-Ky., chimed in that it would take "a change of law ... an act of Congress."
Not every Republican is convinced that the conversation stops there. There are other federal agencies that are bound to play some role in implementing the immigration executive orders, for one thing. Some lawmakers also think that the appropriators aren't being entirely forthcoming about what they can and cannot do.
"That's been a convenient argument but not one that's been fully sustained by the decisions of our leadership over the last three or four years," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of Congress' most vocal opponents to immigration overhaul legislation. "They'll say you can't legislative on an appropriations bill, but the appropriators can, they can write anything they want in there and they have many times."
King, who isn't a member of the appropriations committee, said he has already drafted a number of amendments he's prepared to submit for consideration alongside an omnibus or stopgap spending bill, including one to defund Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Apart from the appropriations bill-policy rider gambit, there are other things Republicans can do — though neither of them are particularly compelling.
Earlier this week, Rogers floated the possibility of, early next year, passing what's known as a "rescission bill," something that would systematically defund certain programs and initiatives that are working to implement the immigration executive order but exist outside of the formal appropriations process.
It wouldn't be tied to a must-pass bill, though; nor would it earn support from Democrats or the president's signature.
House Republicans could continue to pursue their lawsuit against the Obama administration, adding to their list of grievances the immigration orders. Lawsuits are lengthy, however, and the GOP conference has seen two contracted attorneys quit already after being pressured by other clients to drop the case.
There's also the route of impeachment — but few Republicans want to go there.
"You can say he hasn't followed his oath of office and you're gonna impeach him," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a member of the Appropriations Committee. "If anybody suggests that I hope they just put a bullet to my head, or whatever, because that's not a viable option."
Simpson said the most practical solution is for Congress to pass an immigration overhaul bill in the next congress, something he acknowledged was increasingly unlikely with Obama's plan to move forward on executive actions.
“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue — and many others,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel on Wednesday.
Emily Ethridge contributed to this report.
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