It's symbolic because it's dead on arrival in Harry Reid's Senate (a formulation that will meet its glorious expiration date in a few weeks), and because President Obama has already issued a veto threat if Reid and company accidentally passed the thing. Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, believe that Obama lacks the authority to impose his amnesty fiat. Obama disagrees, naturally -- although his stance on that question was both adamant and completely different not too long ago. Barack Obama's legal constraints depend on Barack Obama's political needs. Regardless, this afternoon's vote was little more than an on-the-record 'sense of the House' rebuke:
JUST IN: House votes 219 to 197, 3 voted present, to block Obama from changing immigration laws by executive authority— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) December 4, 2014
A small handful of partisans on each side broke with their parties; conservative Democrats, and a number of Republicans from heavily Hispanic districts. The narrative that this vote was at its core about immigration, rather than preserving the Constitutional order, was too powerful for some to resist, evidently. Which helps explain why the White House has zero problem flouting the law and pushing executive power as far as its has: Republicans have few viable retaliatory options, and the separation of powers issue at stake is easily sidetracked and demagogued as just more proof that the GOP hates brown people, or whatever. So long as the public loathes the idea of a shutdown, and so long as that same public is primed to reflexively blame Republicans for any shutdown, the GOP is basically cornered. They and their base don't want to allow Obama's power grab to go unchallenged, but many of the tools at their disposal aren't politically attractive or practical. Hence the White House's extraordinary arrogance.
As we discussed earlier in the week, the "best" course of action on the table involves passing a temporary budget to fund virtually all of the government through next September, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, whose money would only be extended for a few months. When that cash expires and is in need of a re-up, the GOP could use that appropriations fight to try to de-fund the executive amnesty to whatever extent is possible through the (which may be quite limited). That said, couldn't they at least refuse to allot funds for this hiring spree? The problem with this plan -- aside from questions about how many funding strings Congress can actually pull on this front -- is that it involves approving a roughly ten-month spending plan for the overwhelming majority of federal expenses next week, which critics argue gives Congressional Democrats too much lasting influence over government outlays, long after they've been tossed out of power. I discussed today's votes and the road ahead on Gretchen Carlson's show earlier this afternoon:
I should make that final point more often. Why is DHS trying to hire 1,000 bureaucrats to help administer an amnesty that supposedly just entails "enforcement discretion" that involves the federal government not acting? Because the president's decree also doles out millions of legal work permits, which seems far beyond the purview of mere discretion. That's a concrete shift in policy -- also known as 'changing the law,' as Obama put it before the White House had to walk back his accidental truth-telling.