WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House may vote this week to undo President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, House Speaker John Boehner told lawmakers Tuesday as he sought to give outraged conservatives an outlet to vent over Obama's move without shutting down the government.
The move would be mostly symbolic, since Obama would certainly veto such legislation and the Democratic-led Senate likely wouldn't go along with it. But GOP leaders hope it will assuage Republicans furious about Obama's two-week-old actions to shield some 4 million immigrants in this country illegally from deportation, and grant them work permits.
"We're looking at a number of options in terms of how to address this. This is a serious breach of our Constitution," Boehner told reporters. "It's a serious threat to our system of government, and frankly we have limited options and limited ability to deal with it directly."
Publicly, the speaker told reporters that Republicans were considering several options and no decision had been made, but aides and lawmakers said that he indicated during a closed-door meeting with the rank and file earlier that the vote on legislation to block Obama was the leading option. It would be on a bill by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., aimed at blocking Obama from unilaterally allowing categories of unlawful immigrants to live and work here.
Party leaders then hope to move on next week to voting on must-pass spending legislation to keep the government running. In the wake of their midterm election victories last month to win full control of Congress, Republican leaders are eager to show they can govern responsibly without risking government shutdowns. But Obama's administrative moves on immigration and the resulting GOP fury has created complications.
Boehner floated the two-step approach as Congress reconvened after a week-long Thanksgiving recess. But there were immediate signs of opposition from immigration hard-liners who have scuttled past efforts by Boehner to address the issue.
Several conservative lawmakers said Boehner's approach didn't go far enough. They said they would hold out for a spending bill to include language explicitly blocking Obama's actions from taking effect. GOP leaders fear that could scuttle the spending bill or even lead to a government shutdown.
"If we start out with a bill that does nothing to reverse the president's illegal conduct it will be difficult for me to support it," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. "I'll be surprised if they can muster the 218 votes needed to pass the House."
Some conservatives were not mollified by the prospect of voting on Yoho's bill aimed at overturning Obama.
"I'm going to vote for Yoho's bill but it's not going to go anywhere and everybody knows that," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
Meanwhile Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson defended Obama's new immigration plans before a House committee where Republicans took turns denouncing them as an unconstitutional power grab that would incite a new rush of illegal immigration at the border.
"The president's unilateral actions to bypass Congress undermine the Constitution and threaten our democracy," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "We will see a wave of illegal immigration because of the president's actions."
Johnson disputed that point and others, arguing the president acted within his executive authority to temporarily defer deportations for certain immigrants who are not priorities for removal anyway. The actions apply mostly to people who've been in the country five years or more and have kids who are citizens or green card holders.
"I'm fully comfortable that we have the legal authority to push forward these reforms," Johnson said. "Deferred action is an inherent executive branch authority that can and should be used from time to time, and we've done so here."
The spending measure the House will vote on next week will top $1 trillion and fund the day-to-day operations of Cabinet agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the 2015 fiscal year. The Department of Homeland Security — whose personnel implement Obama's orders to permit more immigrants here illegally to remain in the U.S. — may be kept on a shorter leash and be funded only into early 2015 under a plan floated by Boehner. The idea would be to try to reverse Obama's moves on immigration when revisiting its budget next year.
Boehner said no decision has been made. If GOP leaders go forward with the plan they would be rejecting demands by conservative activists to take a more confrontational approach now and try to attach legislation explicitly blocking Obama's immigration orders to the must-pass spending bill.
Johnson spoke out strongly against such a short-term spending measure for his department, saying it could prevent him from funding needed priorities including hiring protection for presidential candidates heading into the 2016 elections.
Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.