A House Republican bill aimed at forcing President Barack Obama to enforce immigration and other laws as they are written drew sharp rebukes Wednesday from the White House and House Democrats, who ripped the measure as anti-immigrant.
The legal dispute over President Barack Obama's unilateral decision to suspend deportations for people brought to the country illegally by their parents, known as "dreamers," has split the GOP and Democrats before.
But on Wednesday the dispute threatened to end any lingering goodwill Democrats were inclined to extend toward GOP leaders, who just weeks earlier unveiled a set of immigration principles for overhauling the nation's broken system — and then said Obama needed to earn back the GOP's trust that he would enforce the law. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney weighed in from the podium, where he spoke of House leaders' interest in an immigration overhaul in the past tense.
Carney said the GOP's legislation "runs contrary to our most deeply held values as Americans and asks law enforcement officials to treat these 'dreamers' the same way as they would treat those with criminal records. ...
"You hear a lot of talk about where people are on this issue. It doesn't require much to look at what House Republicans are doing today to question whether or not they're serious about moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
But GOP leaders said Congress needs to act to curb what they consider to be Obama's abuse of power on a broad scale.
"His administration's blatant disregard for the rule of law has not been limited to just a few instances," Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House floor. "From gutting welfare reform and No Child Left Behind requirements to refusing to enforce immigration and drug laws, the president's dangerous expansion of powers appears to be endless. Whether one believes in the merit of the end goal or not, this is not how the executive branch was intended by our founders to act."
The House passed a bill 233-181 on Wednesday that would authorize the House or the Senate to bring a civil lawsuit against the White House for executive overreach.
“The president doesn’t get to decide which laws he’s going to enforce any more than Americans get to decide which laws they’re going to follow," Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. "The fact that the president would threaten to veto a measure requiring him to uphold his Constitutional obligations underscores why this bill is needed, and why Senate Democrats should pass it immediately.”
On Thursday, the chamber will vote on an additional measure forcing federal officials to justify to Congress each time they opt not to enforce certain laws.
Democrats backing an immigration overhaul were livid.
"I want to read to you from the Republican principles on immigration," said Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., during floor debate on Wednesday. "This is what your caucus put forward. 'One of the greatest founding principles of our country was that children would not be punished for the mistake of their parents. It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residents of citizenship for those brought to this country as children through no fault of their own and no other place.' Yet today you want to take away that very ability from the president of the United States."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who like Gutierrez has been a leading voice in pushing for a comprehensive immigration overhaul, also weighed in.
"We have had one vote on immigration here in Congress. It was on Congressman King's bill to deport the Dream Act kids," said Lofgren on the Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, amendment that the House passed last year to override Obama's executive action to defer the deportations of dreamers.
Lofgren also wondered why the House had not yet seen legislation reportedly in the works from Cantor and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., tentatively titled the Kids Act, that would help dreamers avoid being penalized for being in the country illegally through no fault of their own.
"We've heard a lot of discussion about a bill supposedly that's going to be brought forward by the majority about the innocent children who've been brought here," she said, "but we haven't seen a bill. Instead, we see these bills."
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.