President Barack Obama on Thursday panned the divided Supreme Court’s inability to rule on his immigration executive actions, arguing it was a direct result of Senate Republicans’ refusal to take up his high court nomination.
The court’s 4-4 split is a major blow to Obama and his legacy. The justices were unable to decide on a challenge to policies that could affect millions of people living in the country illegally, and left in place lower court rulings that halted the Obama actions during the legal fight brought by 26 states.
Describing himself as “disappointed,” Obama said the ruling “sets us back even further” on the path to fixing an immigration system that Democrats and Republicans agree is broken. The president said the split decision moves America away from being the “country we want to be.”
He declared the United States “a nation of immigrants” and a “refuge to the world,” adding that welcoming “wave after wave” of immigrants has kept America “stronger” and “entrepreneurial.”
Obama sought to introduce the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA , program. The action would have deferred the deportations of more than 4 million undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents, and allowed them to get work authorization and other government benefits.
The president also sought to expand an earlier program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, which protects immigrants in the country illegally from being deported if they first came to the U.S. under the age of 16.
Obama made clear the split decision will not kick-start widespread deportations of people in the country illegally.
Immigration enforcement priorities he put in place will survive, meaning otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for some time will still be lowest on law enforcement officials’ lists of people to target for a return to their countries.
Individuals deemed “criminals” or “gang bangers,” as the president described them, as well as immigrants who only recently entered the United States, will remain top targets for deportation.
Clearly frustrated by the decision, Obama directed, as he has so often in the past, most of his ire at congressional Republicans.
He hit members of the Senate GOP caucus hard, saying the court’s tie was a direct “consequence” of their refusal to give his high court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a “fair hearing.”
He called the GOP-run Senate “not willing to do its most basic job under the Constitution,” taking up nominations. “America should not let it stand,” Obama said in an apparent message to voters.
Later, in response to a reporter’s question, Obama wondered aloud whether Senate Republicans’ intend to never hold another judicial confirmation hearing. “I hope that’s not their belief,” he said with a slight laugh.
He also hit House Republicans for blocking an immigration overhaul measure in 2013 that passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Because of the deadlocked court and Congress’ inability to pass major legislation, Obama said voters “are going to have to make a decision about who we are and what we care about.”
He took yet another shot at presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Obama said Americans cannot simply “wall ourselves off” from people who speak different languages and have different last names.
He said U.S. history suggests the country is having the latest in a series of episodic anti-immigration “spasms,” predicting that one day the country’s “better impulses will kick in” because “that’s how we all ended up here.”
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan called the decision “a win for the constitution.”
“It’s a win for Congress,” the Wisconsin Republican told reporters Thursday. “And it’s a win for our fight to restore the separation of powers.”