On immigration, President Obama has decided to take on Republicans poised to control the House and Senate in the next Congress.
In a prime-time address on Thursday, Obama will announce executive actions that could give legal status to millions of immigrants that are in the country illegally.
Indeed, even some Democrats had suggested that would be wise, given battles this month over funding the government, and it might have been taken as an olive branch by Republicans.
Instead, Obama is taking a confrontational approach with the GOP, which has taken to referring to the president as an “emperor” and is vowing to stop him.
Coming after Obama’s surprise announcements of a new climate deal with China and tight regulations for the Internet, the aggressive steps on immigration suggest Obama’s political team sees little downside to fighting tooth and nail with Republicans in Congress
And there could be multiple benefits for a White House that last had political momentum when Republicans determined to stop the healthcare law instead triggered a weekslong government shutdown that damaged their brand.
The government is now operating under a short-term funding measure that is set to expire on Dec. 12; congressional Republicans are already weighing options that would attack Obama’s immigration actions through the power of the purse.
The dilemma for the GOP is that such moves would increase the likelihood of a partial or full government shutdown, something party leaders are determined to avoid.
It’s not clear what exact actions Obama will announce on Thursday, though he is expected to defer deportations and offer work permits to millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
“Unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long,” Obama said in a video posted Wednesday on the White House website. “What I’m going to be laying out is things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better.”
After outlining the actions in his speech Thursday night — which many broadcast networks are opting not to carry — the president will head to Las Vegas, where he’s expected to sign the executive order at a high school where he called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform two years ago.
The sense that the administration wants a fight with the GOP over immigration and government funding was reinforced by the president’s invitation to 19 Democrats to discuss the executive actions over dinner at the White House on Wednesday night.
No Republicans were asked to attend.
Obama is expected to dramatically expand the Department of Homeland Security's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, allowing the parents of children who are legal residents or citizens of the United States to avoid deportation proceedings and receive work permits.
Obama could also expand the eligibility for DACA, which allows immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country and work.
And the administration is poised to expand how the federal government issues specialty visas for high-tech workers. In total, an estimated 4 million to 5 million immigrants could be eligible for the program.
Obama is not expected to extend protections to the parents of current DACA recipients, or migrant farm workers.
Republicans are warning Obama they will fight his executive actions tooth and nail.
Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump defends several unsubstantiated claims in truth interview Budowsky: Trump’s war against truth Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing MORE (R-Texas) suggested in an op-ed that the GOP leadership in the Senate should block all the president’s non-national-security administrative and judicial appointments unless Obama withdraws his executive actions.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteWeek ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule House panel blocks Dem effort on Trump's potential business conflicts House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law MORE (R-Va.) called the pending announcement a “slap in the face to the American people and the Constitution” and vowed to use their legislative toolbox to stop him.
And a spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerFreedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes Debt ceiling returns, creating new headache for GOP Letters: Congress, raise the debt limit now MORE (R-Ohio) seized on the reports to criticize Obama, noting the president had repeatedly argued he was “not a king” and did not believe he had legal authority to broaden the group eligible for deferred deportations.
“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 BoehnerJohn BoehnerFreedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes Debt ceiling returns, creating new headache for GOP Letters: Congress, raise the debt limit now MORE spokesman Michael Steel.
There are risks for Obama as well.
Although polls have shown support for providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday found 48 percent opposed Obama taking executive action on immigration.
The White House may hope that a dramatic Republican response to Obama’s actions backfires badly on the GOP.
Asked Wednesday if “political mischief” was part of the calculation — and if the White House was anticipating that Republicans could force a government shutdown or impeachment proceedings that might prove politically harmful — press secretary Josh Earnest played coy.
“Are you suggesting that would be the first time that they would do that?” Earnest said.
The press secretary added that the White House believes “the vast majority of Americans will share his view that these are steps that he should take.”
“So we look forward to having this conversation, and it’s an important one,” Earnest said.
Earnest said Obama wears criticism of his executive action “with a badge of honor.”
“We’ve heard this kind of rhetoric about lawlessness from House Republicans for some time,” Earnest said, describing Obama as “somebody who is willing to examine the law, review the law and use every element of that law to make progress for the American people.”
The jocular dismissal of the Republican criticism suggests the administration views immigration as a chance to regain the political advantage.
Surveys also indicate that voters are increasingly looking to congressional Republicans to lead after handing them control of both chambers of Congress. By moving on immigration, the White House may think it can bait Republicans into overreacting and depleting their own political capital.
“We can’t allow a disagreement over a single issue to become a deal-breaker for every other one,” Earnest said Wednesday.