- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2014

House Republicans rebuked President Obama on Thursday over his deportation amnesty, voting chiefly along party lines to approve a bill nullifying the policy and further escalating what has quickly become a full-blown constitutional clash.

The bill is unlikely to go anywhere amid a White House veto threat and a vow by Senate Democrats not to bring it up at all. Nevertheless, the vote presages bigger showdowns next week and early next year over immigration and executive power that could shape the contours of Mr. Obama’s final two years in office.

Mr. Obama denounced the bill, telling a group of students in Washington that Republicans wanted to deport people just like them.

“Rather than deport students, and separate families, and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, I just want Congress to work with us to pass a common-sense law to fix that broken immigration system,” the president said at an event to promote college affordability. “There’s a lot that Congress could do to help more young people access and afford higher education. I’d like to see us spend more time on that.”

Republicans said the vote went well beyond the passions of immigration. They said they felt compelled to reject the president’s claims of executive authority, which are testing the limits of the separation of powers.

“This is a power grab of enormous proportions,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.

The vote was part of a multipronged Republican strategy to avoid a government shutdown while allowing a chance to debate. The House will vote next week on an omnibus spending bill to fund most of the government until the end of the fiscal year in September. A separate, short-term measure would fund homeland security, including the amnesty policy, until early next year.

A small bloc of conservative lawmakers balked at what they called a “show vote” and argued that they were being manipulated by the party’s leaders, whose strategy is to delay the real fight with Mr. Obama until next year, when Republicans will control both the House and the Senate.

“If they decide to bring a bill to the floor next week that funds the president’s lawlessness, then there is going to be a struggle within our conference,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican and leader of the tea party insurgency against delay tactics.

He and two other Republicans voted “present.” Still, the bill passed easily on a 219-197 vote. Three Democrats voted against Mr. Obama’s policy, and seven Republicans voted against their party’s move.

Despite grumbling, conservatives in the House insisted that Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican nominated by the party conference to retain the top job in the chamber, didn’t face a serious threat when it goes to a vote by full House.

“There’s no move to get rid of Boehner, and I’m one of the most conservative members in Congress,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican.

Outside groups, meanwhile, are ramping up pressure. Americans for Legal Immigration PAC launched a campaign to oust Mr. Boehner. The group accused him and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who will ascend to majority leader in January, of being complicit in Mr. Obama’s plan.

“We have no confidence with Boehner,” said ALIPAC President William Gheen. “This is the Boehner-McConnell-Obama amnesty plot.”

House Republican leaders expect at least 40 members to vote against short-term homeland security funding next week because it doesn’t explicitly withhold funds for Mr. Obama’s temporary amnesty. Republicans are counting on help from Democrats, who stand to get a better deal this year while they still control the Senate, to tuck more pet projects into the omnibus package.

Pro-immigrant allies of Democrats said the Republicans’ chances of winning the White House for the foreseeable future are on the line. They warn that the growing bloc of Hispanics was watching the vote and sees Republicans as anti-immigrant.

“They’re picking a fight with millions of families,” Clarissa Martinez-De-Castro, vice president for advocacy at the National Council of La Raza, said at a press conference with House Democratic leaders outside the Capitol. “We will hold accountable anyone who plays politics with people’s lives.”

Mr. Obama’s executive action would grant a three-year amnesty from deportation to more than 4 million illegal immigrants and grant them work permits to compete for jobs legally. His plan also would keep most other illegal immigrants out of danger of deportation, though they wouldn’t be entitled to legal work permits.

The president said he was forced to act because Republicans have refused to take action to protect illegal immigrants from deportation, and he concluded he was deporting illegal immigrants who didn’t deserve it.

Republicans and some Democrats have said Mr. Obama doesn’t have the power to take those actions and it should be up to Congress to write immigration laws. Several legal challenges have been filed in federal court.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has led the push for Mr. Obama to act, took to the House floor to try to shame Republicans. Standing in front of a life-size cutout of President Reagan, Mr. Gutierrez said Mr. Obama has only followed in the shoes of action Mr. Reagan took in the 1980s to halt deportations.

“They didn’t call Ronald Reagan a tyrant. They didn’t call him lawless,” said Mr. Gutierrez. “Yet he said he would protect a million and a half undocumented people that you call illegal.”

Opponents of Mr. Obama’s executive action argue that Mr. Reagan’s moves were much smaller in scope and were intended to carry out the 1986 amnesty law passed by Congress, whereas Mr. Obama is acting in spite of Congress.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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