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GOP feels immigration heat

Getty Images

By Scott Wong

Republican leaders are so far refusing to telegraph their strategy for combating President Obama’s unilateral action on immigration. But they’re under enormous pressure from the right to act fast.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have no shortage of options. The question is whether any of them would stop Obama in his tracks.

Aides to GOP leadership say one weapon in their armory would be for Republicans to sue the president, either by expanding the GOP’s current lawsuit against him on ObamaCare or bringing new legal action.

Republicans, who will take over the Senate in January, have also threatened to block all of Obama’s executive branch nominees, unless the president reverses his plan shielding up to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation.

The strategy will most certainly include legislation. Senior Republicans have signaled they plan to quickly take up a bill similar to one by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) that would bar any federal funding from being used for Obama’s unilateral actions.

But GOP leaders will need to show quick results if they are to mollify restless rank-and-file members and right-wing activists.

Conservative lawmakers and outside groups are furious with leadership for negotiating and passing a trillion-dollar omnibus spending package last week that funded almost the entire government through September but did little to challenge Obama’s immigration action.

Tea Party lawmakers have derided the legislation as a vote for “amnesty.” The super-PAC linked to the Senate Conservatives Fund began running $80,000 worth of radio ads blasting Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise for caving in the immigration fight.

On Tuesday, the Tea Party Leadership Fund renewed its long-shot online campaign to depose Boehner and install conservative South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy as Speaker.

The group is trying to gather a half-million signatures for its online Draft Gowdy petition, which it will present to every House Republican before lawmakers publicly vote for Speaker in January.

The leadership fund says 200,000 people have already signed on.

“We need a strong leader who’s fired up and eager to take on Barack Obama and his arrogant Imperial Presidency!” one of the Tea Party group’s leaders, Rusty Humphries, wrote in an email to supporters.

“Instead we have John Boehner, who is giving in to the whole Obama agenda — amnesty, ObamaCare, and a fully funded government.”

In a post on his website Tuesday, conservative radio host Erick Erickson said it’s time for Boehner to go.

After the House narrowly averted a government shutdown last week, Scalise burst into the Speaker’s lobby and told reporters the vote teed up a battle over Obama’s immigration plan in just a few weeks.

But even some Republicans are conceding that none of the arrows in their quiver seems to hold out real hope of stopping Obama on immigration, at least in the short term.

A GOP-backed lawsuit could take months to work its way through the courts, even as a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared parts of Obama’s actions unconstitutional on Tuesday.

Conservatives are fretting that Obama administration officials have already begun implementing the president’s plan, which would grant legal status and work permits to millions of people who came to the U.S. illegally, including so-called “Dreamers” who were brought here as children.

Holding up all Obama nominees, including his pick for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, would certainly hamstring the president’s final two years in office. But it would have no direct impact on halting the executive actions.

Then there’s the problem with legislation. Republicans designed the massive spending bill so that it only funds the Homeland Security Department through Feb. 27. That way, Republicans argued, they can threaten to cut off appropriations and shut down the department, unless Obama agrees to their demands to defund his immigration program.

But Obama would surely veto any legislation that seeks to kill his immigration plan. And as The Hillreported last week, there’s no certainty Republicans could even shut down the DHS if they wanted to.

During the 2013 government shutdown, most DHS employees continued working because they were deemed “essential” in protecting lives and property, or were paid for with fees not part of the traditional appropriations process.

“Lapses in annual appropriations result in a partial shutdown of government operations and emergency furlough of employees — however, they do not result in the complete shutdown of operations,” the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a 23-page report on impacts to the DHS after last year’s 16-day shutdown.

Among the highlights of the October 2013 report:

• Of DHS’s 231,117 civilian and military employees, nearly 200,000 (or roughly 85 percent) continued working because they were exempted from the furloughs.

• Most programs at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is tasked with implementing Obama’s executive action, are funded with fees and, therefore, were not impacted by the lapse in congressional appropriations. In fact, only 353 out of 12,558 employees at the USCIS (roughly 2 percent) were projected to be furloughed during the shutdown.

• Nearly 30 presidential appointees at the DHS could not be furloughed because these employees are paid according to their duties rather than hours worked. That meant Obama’s handpicked officials at the department continued working during the shutdown.

The details of the report have alarmed some conservatives who worry Obama will simply argue that all DHS employees need to stay on the job in the interest of national security — especially at a time of heightened terrorist activity around the globe.

“If you threaten to shut off the funding for DHS, the president will say, ‘I can run that however I want. I can declare them all essential services,’ ” warned Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who had argued that GOP leaders would have more leverage to take on Obama’s immigration plan in the lame-duck session, when funding for the entire federal government was at stake.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, doesn’t buy the argument Republicans will be at a disadvantage come January.

He believes DHS officials legally won’t be able to “do something new” — like conducting background checks and creating work permits under the program — without consulting with Congress first.

“It will be a cat and mouse game,” Graham quipped.

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