By Ben Kamisar - 11/21/14 01:11 PM EST
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump, Clinton discuss counterterrorism with Egyptian president GOP senators want immigration details on attack suspects GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Ala.) ruled out impeachment over President Obama’s immigration executive orders but said Friday that Congress must do everything else in its power to impede the president’s actions.
“I can’t recall such a massive alteration of the classical understanding of what laws mean in America being wiped out,” Sessions said during a speech at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
At the same time, Sessions suggested impeachment would go too far.
“No, we are not going to impeach or have a move to impeach. The president has certain powers. We truly believe, and I think it's accurate to say he abused those powers,” Sessions said.
During a speech Thursday evening, Obama laid out his plan to provide up to 5 million undocumented immigrants with legal status and work permits. While the president can’t change immigration laws, he is directing executive agencies to prioritize deportations and effectively give certain undocumented immigrants a reprieve from the threat of deportations.
Sessions and other Republicans have accused the president of legislating from the Oval Office and want to reign in the executive orders, which Sessions argued only makes the situation worse. He discussed trying to defund federal agencies that carry out Obama's executive order, something a House GOP committee said would be “impossible.”But Sessions said that fighting back against the order through the "power of the purse," placing restrictions on funding authorizations, is well within Congress' power. He quoted Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who called the practice "standard congressional procedure," in an interview with National Review and said that defunding certain programs or initiatives is not the same as "trying to bring down the government."
Sessions agreed that the current immigration system needed a fix, but he said Congress has failed to address the issue. He floated the idea of adopting a plan similar to Canada's, which partly uses a point system in order to give priority to immigrants that would serve the country’s best interests.
While immigration is a politically charged issue, Sessions said that an overhaul that is “objective, fair, and serves the national interest” would dissolve the tension.
“This unilateral determination by the president to execute his vision that the American people clearly rejected this past election, I think is the wrong way to do it,” he said.
Obama had been warning Congress that he’d take actions into his own hands unless lawmakers sent him an immigration bill to sign. But while Senate Democrats passed a bill last year with support from 14 Republicans, that bill, along with the entire issue, hasn’t seen the light of day in the Republican-led House.
Sessions accused Democrats of distorting the Senate immigration bill. He said he told the senators who wrote the bill that he loved their talking points and wanted to vote on those instead of the bill.
“When you read the fine print, it wasn’t there,” he said.
Republicans have long worried that their party needs to pursue policies to help bring Hispanic voters into the party. The party’s autopsy report after its 2012 presidential defeat highlighted a need to specifically “champion comprehensive immigration reform.”
But Sessions hit back against that notion and pointed out that Republicans won big in 2014, taking a strong stand against the president’s immigration policies.
“We had a huge election victory and got a larger percentage of the Hispanic vote than we did before,” he said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and a lot of these consultants that helped write this report two years ago either don’t know what they are talking about or are taking advice from people with money at stake.”This story was updated at 4:30 p.m.