President Obama’s immigration vow rankled Republicans during Friday’s bipartisan post-election summit at the White House.
The president has expressed frustration with congressional gridlock holding back progress on a broad immigration reform bill. But following their dominant performance in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Republicans have warned that any unilateral actions by the White House would effectively “poison the well” in the words of House Speaker John Boehner.
“I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally, on his own, outside of his authority, he will poison the well, and there will be no chance of immigration reform moving in this Congress,” Boehner said on Wednesday. “It’s as simple as that. When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
But while meeting with twelve congressional leaders for a lunch in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House Friday, the president reiterated his commitment to pursuing executive actions by the end of the year if Congress did not act itself.
According to the Washington Post account of the meeting, “Obama shot back that he intended to proceed, saying that he had already waited almost two years for congressional action on immigration” and that doing so “should not upend chances for cooperation on unrelated matters.”
For Obama, immigration has been a high legislative priority of his second term. The Hispanic vote was a key to his two presidential campaigns and has become an important demographic that both parties are pursuing. Obama’s 2012 reelection and strength with that bloc seemed to indicate a strong chance of a reform bill finding bipartisan support as Republicans tried to shake an anti-immigration perception.
But political gridlock and pressure from the right wing of their party led to GOP resistance of bipartisan legislative proposals. Now, according to the Post, Obama is considering executive actions that would let “as many as 5 million illegal immigrants” remain in the United States for a period of time, if not permanently. Many of those could be parents of children born in the U.S., who are American citizens by birth.
Republicans see that as a major political mistake.
“I don’t know why he would want to sabotage his last two years as president by doing something this provocative,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said to the Associated Press.
He added that the president “seems unmoved and even defiant” despite his party’s major losses in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, who lost on Tuesday, said that Obama should just act on immigration as soon as possible.
“Republicans not only were bad on immigration at the beginning of the year, they were bad during the year, they were bad at the end of the year,” Garcia told the Post. “At the same time, we’re being woodshopped for not moving on the executive order, and that’s why he should have just done it.”
Increasingly, that appears to be the mindset at the White House. Obama’s immigration plans will apparently only be stopped by congressional action.
“They can allow that common-sense, bipartisan bill from the Senate to come to the floor of the House of Representatives,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday. “And if the House passes that Senate bill, the president won’t take executive action. Maybe the republic will be saved. Maybe the ego of the House Republicans will not be bruised. Certainly, the United States of America would benefit significantly from them taking that step.”
Former top Obama advisor David Axelrod tweeted Friday that the president should wait for that vote rather than take any executive actions.
Immigration bill won a huge bipartisan majority in the Senate. POTUS should agree to shelve exec order for up or down vote in House.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) November 5, 2014
In June, that Senate bill received 68 votes in favor – over two-thirds of an often gridlocked chamber. But it promptly died in the House of Representatives, as Republicans sharply criticized what they considered its amnesty provisions. Those attacks came despite the bill being cosponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential 2016 presidential contender, and gaining 14 GOP votes.
At the time, Speaker Boehner firmly rejected the idea of a House vote.
“I issued a statement that I thought was pretty clear, but apparently some haven’t gotten the message: the House is not going to take up and vote on whatever the Senate passes,” he said, according to the New York Times. “We’re going to do our own bill.”
The lack of such an alternative and the growing political pressure from his own party in turn led to the defiant Obama immigration stance this week despite a poor midterm showing for Democrats.[photo credit: Pete Souza/The White House]