House Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that Republicans could use a spending bill to block President Obama’s planned executive action to grant work permits to illegal immigrants, but his Senate counterpart ruled out a government shutdown over it, canceling the one major piece of leverage the GOP has in the fight.
“We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, told reporters after meeting with his GOP colleagues, flatly ruling out an all-or-nothing showdown over Mr. Obama’s plans.
Mr. Boehner said all options remain on the table, and said there could be other ways to punish Mr. Obama should he act despite the GOP’s warnings, hinting that “if he wants to go off on his own, there are things he’s just not going to get” from among the White House’s list of priorities.
Mr. Obama has promised to act before the end of the year on executive moves to halt deportations. Options he’s considering could grant tentative legal status and work permits to as many as 7 million illegal immigrants, according to activists who are pleading with him to “go broad” in whatever he decides to do.
But his decision is already precipitating a major constitutional crisis, with Republicans pointing to Mr. Obama’s own statements that he lacks the authority to do what he is now considering.
Democrats, meanwhile, say President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush both halted deportations and granted work permits to illegal immigrants Congress hadn’t approved, paving the way for Mr. Obama to act.
Dozens of House Republicans signed a letter urging their leaders to attach a provision to an upcoming spending bill that would prohibit Mr. Obama from using any funds to carry out his immigration plans. That is a well-tested way of Congress stopping the president.
But Senate Democrats, who are still the majority for the rest of this year, could refuse to pass that, and even if they did, Mr. Obama could veto it, leaving the GOP with the options of caving and passing a spending bill without the restrictions, or else refusing to pass a bill and sending the government into a partial shutdown.
Congressional Democratic leaders pleaded with Mr. Obama to circumvent Congress, saying Mr. Boehner and his troops squandered their chance to pass legislation.
In a letter to the president, more than 100 Democrats told him to act quickly and to include as many illegal immigrants as he could in his decision.
“It is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our broken immigration system by enacting legislation,” the Democrats said. “But by failing to do their job — and repeatedly interfering with your efforts to do your job — congressional Republicans threaten to take our immigration system hostage and preserve a status quo that everyone agrees is unacceptable. Their failure to act must not inhibit your commitment to governing.”
The New York Times reported that Mr. Obama is planning moves that would shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, including specifically carving out special status for illegal immigrant parents whose children are here legally.
Mr. Obama is also considering limiting that only to parents who have been in the country for a decade or more, the paper reported.
Three years ago, Mr. Obama was adamant that he did not have authority as president to stop deportations unilaterally, saying “that’s just not the case.”
But speaking on “Face the Nation” on CBS this weekend, Mr. Obama said he now believes he’s been wrong on deportations.
“We’re deporting people that shouldn’t be deported, we’re not deporting folks that are dangerous and need to be deported,” he said.
Deportations have dropped the last two years, from more than 400,000 in 2012 to an estimated 320,000 or so in fiscal year 2014.