WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he has urged President Barack Obama not to take any executive action on immigration until December, amid threats from Republicans that such a move could derail funding for the government.
“The president has said he’s going to do the executive action — the question is when he can do it. It’s up to him,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I’d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it.”
Reid added that he has expressed his view to Obama, but ultimately “it’s up to him.”
Obama could take executive action on immigration — potentially giving deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants — as early as next week, according to reports. Republicans have said it would be a major overreach of his authority, “poisoning the well” for future immigration reform. But they have also indicated it could lead to a government shutdown, should GOP members insist that defunding the new policies be part of the must-pass funding bill.
“If the president illegally tries to grant amnesty to millions of more people, I believe Congress should use every available tool to stop that amnesty and to defend the rule of law,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The Huffington Post.
Even Republicans who criticized last year’s government shutdown agreed. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), both vocal critics of the previous shutdown and co-authors of the Senate immigration bill that passed last year, warned of grave consequences of Obama were to act unilaterally.
“Why not give the new Congress six months to see if we can find a way forward?” Graham told HuffPost. “You’ve got a bunch of new people coming in who need to be tested about what they believe regarding immigration. Patience is a virtue in life, it’s a necessity in a democracy. I just think it’s ill-conceived and the public will rebel against it.”
Graham added that he had appealed directly to the White House on the matter.
“I said, ‘Listen, what’s the downside of giving the new Congress a chance? I think most Americans will find this inappropriate and Democrats will pay a price,'” he said. “Most Americans would be for rational comprehensive immigration reform. Very few Americans are for Barack Obama going it alone.”
McCain said Obama’s decision to take executive action “poisons the well in more ways than one.”
“If the president were serious about immigration reform, he’d say, ‘It’s a new Congress, new members, in both House and Senate, and I’ll give them a chance to move forward on immigration reform.’ He’s not going to do that,” McCain said. “So you have to question whether he’s really serious about immigration reform or helping with the Hispanic vote in the 2016 election.”
McCain also rejected the notion that Congress had forced Obama’s hand by failing to act on the issue.
“There may be something happening. You should give it time in order to find that out. What’s the difference between three months?” McCain said, adding that he would “absolutely” vote for a continuing resolution that defunds any executive action Obama takes on immigration.
“If he vetoes, he vetoes,” McCain said. “I believe in the Constitution. He’s the one who’s violating the Constitution.”
But when asked if Republicans would threaten a government shutdown over immigration, McCain said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had already taken a shutdown off the table.
McConnell, who will become the majority leader in January, reiterated on Thursday that Republicans would not shut down the government if Obama enacts executive action on immigration.
“We will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt,” he said twice at a press conference.
The exact timing and plan for executive action is a well-guarded secret within the Obama administration, but both Fox News and The New York Times reported that it could come as soon as next week, when the president returns from travel abroad.
Fox News reported on Wednesday that the plan was being finalized and could be announced next week. According to Fox News’ sources, the 10-point draft proposal would expand deportation relief and work authorization to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents. It would also broaden eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a 2012 policy that allows undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to stay and work legally. It would end or change the controversial Secure Communities program that uses local law enforcement to pick up immigrants, and reaffirm the government’s priorities for deportation.
Beyond addressing undocumented immigrants, the proposal would send more resources to the border and increase the pay of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to boost low morale, Fox News reported. It would also allow for more immigrants with high-tech skills to come to the country. The New York Timespublished a separate report on Thursday with many of the same details, saying Obama could grant deportation relief to up to 5 million people. Both outlets reported that the details are not final, and could change before the final announcement.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday that the process was nearing completion, although he did not indicate an announcement date other than to say it would be by the end of the year. He said the president does not plan to wait until Congress finishes its session to see if the House will pass immigration reform, but if they were to pass the bill approved by the Senate last year, Obama “would happily sign it,” according to a transcript.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to a request for comment on the timeline or details of the proposal being considered.
Beyond government funding, Republicans have said executive action could also complicate the effort to confirm Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee for the next attorney general.
“I would think it may,” McCain said. “It would affect my view of her if she thinks it’s constitutional for the president to act with an executive order on an issue of this magnitude.”
UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. — Reid released a statement later Thursday clarifying his support for executive action:
I strongly support the President’s use of his well-established authority to provide relief to families who continue to suffer under our broken immigration system. The President can and should act to provide this relief. Immigrant communities cannot wait any longer for House Republicans to act.
In recent days it has become increasingly clear that a small but vocal minority of Republicans are looking for an excuse to derail what has been a productive, bipartisan process of drafting a year-long funding bill to keep the government open. It is incumbent on responsible leaders within the Republican Party to work with Democrats and complete the business of keeping the government open in the coming weeks, regardless of when the President acts to provide relief to families.