President Obama has a tough decision to make on the timing of an executive order to freeze deportations of illegal immigrants.
Senate Democrats want him to wait to give them time to pass an omnibus spending bill and other legislative priorities in the lame-duck session that is just now ramping up.
But delaying the action, even for a few weeks, could make Obama look weak and inflame immigration advocates who are already furious with him for holding back until after the midterm elections.
“You have growing anxiety amongst the immigrant community that’s losing faith that the president is going to do as he said he would do,” said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “I really think he’ll lose support from the Latino community if he continues to wait.”
Complicating the situation further, Obama is being asked to do a favor for Democratic lawmakers at a time when they are casting blame on him for the party’s disastrous showing at the ballot box.
One of the sharpest blows came from Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt MORE’s (D-Nev.) chief of staff, who excoriated Obama in a story published almost immediately after Democrats lost the Senate.
Obama postponed executive action on immigration reform until after the midterm elections at the behest of Democrats, and immigration advocates say there’s no reason to go that route again.
“Waiting doesn’t make sense,” said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, deputy vice president of research, advocacy and legislation at the National Council of La Raza. “This is about millions of American families who’ve been waiting for a very long time for something to be done,” she said.
But Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrats say they have path to deal on climate provisions in spending bill Democratic senator: Methane fee could be 'in jeopardy' Climate activists confront Manchin outside of Capitol MORE (D-Del.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction of the immigration enforcement agencies that would be affected, said Obama should wait until next year.
“If I were the president, what I’d say to the Congress — House, Senate, Democrat or Republican — I’m going to give you a little bit of time and in the new Congress expect you to do something,” he said.
Carper said Obama should set a deadline for congressional action on immigration reform early next year and issue an executive order easing deportations if lawmakers fail to meet it.
“I would say not the first month, maybe the first quarter” of next year, the senator added.
Reid said last week that Obama should hold off until Congress passes a bipartisan omnibus spending bill negotiated by the Senate and House Appropriations committees.
“The president has said he’s going to do the executive action. The question is when. It’s up to him,” Reid said, according to Reuters. “But I’d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it.”
Reid said he told the president of his preference, and the Democratic leader has made passing an omnibus a top priority of his final weeks in control of the Senate agenda.
He backed off his statement in an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language television network, Monday.
When asked about postponing executive action until after a budget vote in December, Reid said, “I think it should be done now.”
“There are some members who hope the president waits until the government funding debate concludes in order to increase the chances Congress can pass an omnibus that funds the government at the appropriate levels through the fiscal year, as opposed to the Republican plan to pass a short-term CR [continuing resolution] that sets up brinksmanship early next year,” said a senior Democratic aide.
Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line MORE (D-Md.), a close Reid ally and chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations panel, has spent months crafting the omnibus and is “laser-focused” on keeping it on track, according to another Democratic aide.
Republican leaders want to pass an omnibus package to “clear the decks” for 2015 and give them a chance to start next year’s budget and appropriations process with a clean slate, according to a senior GOP aide.
A presidential order freezing deportations, however, threatens to derail the omnibus, the aide said, and would make it tougher to pass other bills and confirm dozens of backlogged nominees.
“It really has a negative effect on everything,” said the aide. “Here you have a newly elected Republican majority in the Senate and expanded majority in the House that want to work in the center to do something big for the country and it seems Obama is rejecting the idea of finding common ground.”
House Republicans are now talking about moving a short-term funding measure that would expire early next year. That would give them a chance to pass another government funding bill next year that would prohibit the expenditure of funds on work permits and processing applications for immigrants covered by the order.
“The president is going to do an executive action on deportations, so Republicans shouldn’t pass an omnibus unless it includes language blocking an executive amnesty,” said a conservative Republican aide. “That’s why Republicans are increasingly of the mind that a short-term CR is the way to go.”
But pro-immigrant advocacy groups warn a delay of even a few weeks would hurt thousands of families.
“Every day that there’s no executive action over 1,000 families lose a loved one to deportation,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director at America’s Voice, a group that supports full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants. “It was not acceptable for them to delay this summer, this fall and certainly it would not be acceptable for them to delay any further.”
Senate Democratic leaders sent Obama a letter Monday urging him to issue an order easing deportations but it omitted a deadline for action.
Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Democrats blast Supreme Court on one-year anniversary of Barrett's confirmation Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Under pressure, Democrats cut back spending MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that the timing of executive action “could be negotiable.”
Obama said over the weekend that he would not let GOP talk of blocking a government funding bill dissuade him from fulfilling his long-awaited promise to help keep illegal immigrants united with their families.
“I take Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellManchin backs raising debt ceiling with reconciliation if GOP balks Biden needs to be both Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside Billionaire tax gains momentum MORE at his word when he says that the government is not going to shut down,” he said of the incoming Senate leader.
Justin Sink contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:31 a.m.