White House blasts House on immigration

The White House on Wednesday blasted House Republicans for a vote that would block implementation of President Obama's executive orders on immigration in exchange for funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Domestic policy adviser Cecilia Muñoz said amendments that would prohibit the government from providing deportation protection and work permits to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants were "not relevant" to funding for the department, and argued "nothing" that had been proposed by House Republicans "makes any sense from a policy perspective."

ADVERTISEMENT
In addition to halting the president's recently announced executive action on immigration, the House bill would prevent new applications and renewals under the deferred action program unveiled in 2012 for those who were brought to the country illegally as children.

According to the White House, some 600,000 people have taken advantage of that program already.

The legislation would also prioritize deportation for illegal immigrants convicted of sexual abuse and domestic violence; promote the hiring of U.S. citizens above those who are in the country illegally; and express the sense of Congress that the administration should “stop putting the interest of immigrants who worked within the legal framework to come to the U.S. behind those who came here illegally.”

But Muñoz insisted that "there's no reason to tinker with the administration's actions at all." She also reiterated the president's intention to veto any legislation that tries to alter his executive actions.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said such prosecutorial prioritization was "critical to any law enforcement agency."

Other administration officials argued that the gambit of tying immigration legislation to DHS funding was tantamount to a dangerous game of legislative chicken.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest appeared to invoke the recent terror attacks in Paris while arguing his case.

"There's never a good time to muck around with the funding of the Department of Homeland Security, but given the events of the last week, this seems like a particularly bad time to do so," Earnest said.

Andrew Mayock of the Office of Management and Budget noted that without new funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service would be unable to enact a series of new security policies prescribed in a review conducted after repeated breaches of White House security.

Mayock also noted that FEMA would be prevented from distributing emergency grants to state and local governments in need.

Republicans have defended the legislation as necessary after Obama moved aggressively to broaden the deferred action program — despite previously indicating he did not believe he had the executive authority to do so.

“We are dealing with a president who has ignored the people, ignored the Constitution, and even his own past statements," Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerSudan sanctions spur intense lobbying OPINION | GOP's 7-year ObamaCare blood oath ends in failure A simple fix to encourage bipartisanship in the House MORE (R-Ohio) said in a rare floor speech Wednesday. 

The White House repeatedly refused to say how they hoped Senate Democrats, who should have enough votes to filibuster the House legislation, should approach the House funding bill. Officials said they did not expect the Senate to announce a path forward until after this week's policy retreats.

Muñoz also refused to say whether immigration would play a prominent role in the president's State of the Union address next week. Obama's approval rating has jumped — particularly among Hispanic voters — in the aftermath of the actions, and the president may use his primetime address to chastise Republicans over the issue.

"It's always dangerous to get ahead of the president and his speech," Muñoz said.

— Cristina Marcos contributed.