House Set To Rebuke Obama On Immigration

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.  Just days before government funding expires, House Republican leaders are trying to strike a balance between the conservatives determined to stop President Barack Obama’s immigration order and other lawmakers just as determined to avoid another politically damaging shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. Just days before government funding expires, House Republican leaders are trying to strike a balance between the conservatives determined to stop President Barack Obama’s immigration order and other lawmakers just as determined to avoid another politically damaging shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- Emboldened House Republicans prepared to rebuke President Barack Obama over immigration Thursday with a vote on legislation declaring his recent executive actions "null and void."

The measure strongly announced the House's opposition to Obama's unilateral move even as immigrant advocates warned that the GOP was voting to tear families apart and deport parents.

But even supporters acknowledged that the bill by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., which says Obama was acting "without any constitutional or statutory basis," was mostly meant to send a message. It stood no chance in the Senate, which remains under Democratic control until January, and faced a veto threat from Obama. The real fight may lie ahead as conservatives push to use must-pass spending legislation to block Obama.

Still, Republicans insisted they must go on record denouncing what they described on the House floor as a lawless and outrageous power grab by Obama.

"The president thinks he can just sit in the Oval Office and make up his own laws. That's not the way our system of government works," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. "This legislation says you can't do that, Mr. President. There is a rule of law."

Obama's actions last month will extend deportation relief and work permits to some 4 million immigrants here illegally, mostly those who have been in the country more than five years and have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. He also made changes to law enforcement operations, to prioritize deportations of immigrants with criminal records, and expanded an existing deportation deferral program for immigrants brought illegally as kids.

At the White House, Obama issued a veto threat and warned of "devastating consequences" if the bill should become law, since it would theoretically expose millions to deportation. In practice, most of the people covered under his executive move were not about to be deported anyway.

Speaking at an education event, Obama said he recognized that the immigration issue is "one that generates a lot of passion."

"But it does not make sense for us to want to push talent out, rather than make sure that they're staying here and contributing to society," Obama said. "So rather than deport students and separate families and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, I just want the Congress to work with us to pass a commonsense law to fix that broken immigration system."

His executive action came barely two weeks after Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, winning control of the Senate and increasing their majorities in the House.

Democratic lawmakers argued on Thursday that Obama acted within his authority and any effort to undo his actions would imperil millions of families.

"We are here today to vote on yet another symbolic anti-immigrant measure that has absolutely no chance of consideration in the Senate," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. It's "an attempt once again to attack our president as well as immigrant families who contribute to our communities and our economies."

At a news conference outside the Capitol, immigrant advocates said Republicans would be alienating Latinos heading into 2016 presidential elections in which the Hispanic vote is expected to be significant.

"They should remember that this is not a fight between Republicans and the president," said Clarissa Martinez de Castro, of the National Council of La Raza. "They will be picking a fight with the millions of American families who will finally find some relief."

Even as emotions ran high in debate on the bill, many involved acknowledged it was mostly a sideshow as Republicans struggled to find some way to undo what Obama has done - not just register their disapproval. Party leaders acknowledged their options were limited given Obama's veto pen, and no clear solution beckoned.

The Yoho bill was part of a two-part strategy by House GOP leadership to appease conservative immigration hardliners without risking a government shutdown. Their hope was that after approving it, Republicans would move on next week to vote on legislation to keep most of the government running for a year, with a shorter time frame for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees immigration. The idea is to revisit Homeland Security early next year when Republicans will control both houses at the Capitol and have more leverage. A current government-funding measure expires Dec. 11 so a new one must pass by then.

But that approach doesn't go far enough for some conservatives who said the only real way to stop Obama is to include language in the upcoming spending bill to block any money for his actions on immigration.

"I didn't come back here to just play games," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz. "Our voters who sent us back here in a resounding way in the majority, and retaking the majority in the Senate, expected us to be a little more forceful in our fight."

Republican leaders fear such spending-bill language could court an Obama veto and even a government shutdown. That's something they're determined to avoid, a year after taking a political hit for provoking a 16-day partial shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn Obama's health care law.

House Speaker John Boehner made clear Thursday that his strategy would go forward unchanged and indicated he anticipated Democratic votes would help pass the spending bill. That could anger a bloc of conservatives in the House, but Boehner, who will control a larger House majority next year giving him more room to maneuver, showed little patience for their complaints.

"We think this is the most practical way to fight the president's action and frankly we listened to our members, and we listened to some members who are frankly griping the most. This was their idea of how to proceed," Boehner told reporters.

BY ERICA WERNER - Dec 4, 1:56 PM ESTAP

 
 

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