House Republicans, divided on immigration, debate how to respond to expected Obama action

Associated Press

House Republicans debated Friday how to respond to President Barack Obama's expected executive action on immigration, with GOP leaders anxious to craft a solution that satisfies the demands of their most conservative members without courting a government shutdown.

Options under consideration include suing the president to overturn his action, or passing a stand-alone bill to try to stop him. Some are pushing for House Republicans to write own immigration bill — something they've been unable to do in the past two years — to show they are serious about acting and pre-empt Obama.

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But it's not clear that any of these options will be enough to deflate efforts brewing among conservatives to use upcoming must-pass spending bills to block Obama from acting. Pragmatists in the caucus are warning loudly that such an approach could result in a government shutdown because Obama would likely veto the bill. But at least some on the right appear unconcerned.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he refused to "take a position we're not going to use the power of the purse to restrain a president who has threatened to violate the Constitution in the most obscene manner possible."

As for shutdown fears, King pointed to the GOP's success in last week's midterms as evidence that the party wasn't hurt by the last government shutdown it provoked. That was a year ago, in an unsuccessful effort to "defund" Obama's health care law.

"We picked up beaucoup seats in the House and won the vast majority in the Senate. Where's the political penalty for doing the right and just and responsible thing?" King said.

Many Republicans, though, are determined to avoid a shutdown, convinced they would pay a political price, and disturbed that they already find themselves in the position of debating one barely a week after the midterms awarded them control of the Senate and a bigger majority in the House.

"Shutting the government down would only serve the president's interests and we shouldn't take the bait, we Republicans shouldn't take the bait," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Obama's announcement could come as early as next week and could extend protections from deportation to as many as 5 million people now in the country illegally. Changes to law enforcement programs and the issuance of business visas also are expected.

Obama says he must act because the House GOP never did even after the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan bill more than a year ago that included a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11.5 million people in the country illegally.

At least some Republicans say they should act now to deprive Obama of that argument, although immigration advocates have little hope of the House arriving at a bill that could pass the Senate and that Obama would sign.

"Right now if he does this and makes all these declarations of the House won't do anything and yada yada yada, what's our response? You're right, we haven't done anything," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. "Our only defense is we are working on it."

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is exploring options including a lawsuit to stop Obama on immigration, aides said. House Republicans already have announced a lawsuit against Obama over his health care plan but have not yet filed it.