GOP prepares to thwart Obama on immigration

GOP prepares to thwart Obama on immigration
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Conservatives in the House and Senate want to stay one step ahead of President Obama, as he readies executive action to allow more illegal immigrants to stay in the country.

Conservatives are calling for a series of short-term bills or continuing resolutions to fund the government, a strategy that would give Republicans more leverage to halt Obama’s policies if and when he decides to go it alone on immigration.

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“If the president does something that we really don’t like or approve of, we’re thinking about, how do we defund it? What levers do we have available to us ... to pull to prevent the president from doing that in the first place, or defunding it if he does take that step?” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney in an interview.

The South Carolina Republican, who is running for chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said a series of short-term funding measures could prevent Obama from going forward with an executive action on immigration.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE (R-Ala.), who likely will take over as Senate Budget Committee chairman next year, given the GOP takeover of that chamber, said Wednesday he also favored the strategy.

The conservative approach is at odds with both Republican and Democratic appropriators who say they’re focused on passing a lame-duck omnibus package that would keep the government humming along through September 2015.

That would essentially clear the decks of unfinished business, allowing a new Republican-controlled Congress to turn its attention to a fiscal 2016 budget.

“We are moving forward full steam ahead on a 12-bill omnibus, not a [continuing resolution (CR)],” Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), said in an email. “And we are making very good progress,” she said, noting that the trillion-dollar omnibus is on track to hit the floor the week of Dec. 8.

The differences are expected to set off a lively debate when Republicans gather in the Capitol Thursday morning to discuss issues that need resolved in the lame-duck session.

“We obviously have a number of options for combating any unilateral executive amnesty from the White House,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio). “The Speaker is looking forward to hearing proposals from our members on the best way to proceed.”

With a Senate-passed immigration reform bill stalled in the House, Obama has vowed to act on his own to expand the number of illegal immigrants who would be protected from deportation. That could cover millions of people who conservatives have complained would take jobs from American citizens.

The president threatened to take unilateral action before Election Day, but that effort was delayed, after vulnerable Democrats warned it would hurt them at the polls. Now, Republicans expect him to act on or after Dec. 11, the deadline for Congress to pass a funding bill, to prevent a government shutdown.

Both Mulvaney and Sessions see several ways to block Obama.

Sessions is urging Republicans to include specific language in their nine-month omnibus to bar federal law enforcement officials from spending any money on processing applications, benefits or work permits for illegal immigrants.

If Democrats balk, he argues Republicans should only agree to a short-term funding bill and then include the language in another funding measure after they take over the Senate in January.

Mulvaney said he’s been discussing various immigration options with conservative colleagues in a flurry of phone calls before and after the elections. One idea is to simply pass a series of short-term funding measures, so Republicans could vote to block funding for Obama’s immigration action once he takes that step. Another is to pass a longer-term omnibus for all agencies except the Homeland Security Department, which would carry out the president’s immigration order. Instead, the DHS would be funded on a short-term basis, giving Republicans a chance to exercise its power of the purse.

“There’s no reason not to long-term fund transportation because it doesn’t affect immigration,” Mulvaney said in the interview. “But certainly, we want to know what tools are available to us to undo any damage the president tries to inflict.”

House GOP freshmen arriving on Capitol Hill Wednesday said they were anxious to hear ideas from their colleagues about how Republicans should respond to the president’s immigration decree. But they were unified in their opposition.

“I don’t believe the president should be signing an executive order. If he wants to do that, moving forward, he may look for five, six more things to press even further,” Rep.-elect Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) told The Hill. “The president is elected to serve in his capacity in the executive branch; he is not Congress.”

But top Democrats said Republicans’ failure to act on immigration reform has given Obama no other choice. And Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, dismissed conservatives’ push for yet another short-term CR as foolish.   

“We want to provide the economy and the country with some certainty, some predictability and some stability, and that means we should be able to pass a resolution that takes us at least through the remainder of the fiscal year,” Van Hollen said in an interview.

“For goodness sakes, you would think we could deal with this year’s business and get it off the plate.”

Rebecca Shabad contributed