Senate Democrats say Republicans could head off President Obama’s immigration plans by passing the Senate’s own immigration bill — the only problem is the Democrats still haven’t sent the measure to the House for a vote.
Known as S.744, the 1,200-page bill has been bottled up by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in a bit of legislative gamesmanship that has clouded much of the debate over the past two years. Now, that bill has become the centerpiece of last-minute chiding as Democrats say they have exhausted all alternatives except for having Mr. Obama go it alone.
On Monday, Mr. Reid and fellow Senate Democratic leaders told Mr. Obama to quit waiting on Congress and to issue an executive order. They said the president can’t count on Republicans to act before the end of this year and he shouldn’t wait until next year for Republicans to make good on promises they’ve broken before.
“We strongly support your plan to improve as much of the immigration system as you can within your legal authority, and will stand behind you to support changes to keep families together while continuing to enforce our immigration laws in a way that protects our national security and public safety,” the Democratic leaders in the Senate wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama is contemplating a temporary amnesty for what activists hope will be as many as 7 million illegal immigrants. He said he would prefer permanent legal status conferred by Congress, but in the meantime he will claim executive discretionary powers to cancel their chances for deportation and likely will grant them work permits so they can compete for jobs legally.
As Mr. Obama’s self-imposed deadline draws near, however, he is facing stiff headwinds.
A Gallup poll released Monday said just 42 percent support presidential action on his own, while 46 percent said he should wait to give a chance to the next Congress, fully controlled by Republicans.
Republicans have accused Mr. Obama of spoiling for a fight. They say he wants Republicans to overreact so they appear extreme.
“I think he’s actually trying to bait us into doing some of these extreme things,” Rep. Tom Cole told ABC’s “This Week” program over the weekend.
In a press conference Sunday at the end of his Asian tour, Mr. Obama said Republicans want to head him off so they can act.
“There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority. Pass a bill I can sign on this issue,” he said.
Democrats say Mr. Obama would be treading a path well-worn by presidents, including Republicans. President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush used executive orders to cancel deportations for illegal immigrant family members of people who received amnesty from a 1986 law.
In that case, however, those presidents were acting to carry out a law, while Mr. Obama would be acting even though Congress has rejected action.
Mr. Reid and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who shepherded the Senate bill through the committee last year, took one more stab Monday at urging House Republicans to pass that legislation.
“They refused to take it up and yet they complain that the president’s going to do something. I say bring it up and vote yes or vote no,” Mr. Leahy said.
The Senate bill, which legalizes illegal immigrants and grants them a long-term path to citizenship, passed the Senate on a bipartisan 68-32 vote, but Mr. Reid has kept it in his chamber rather than send it to the House for action.
Mr. Reid’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on why the bill has been stalled, but analysts say it violates the Constitution’s clause that requires all revenue bills to begin in the House. If the Senate sends its version to the House, Republicans would be able to kill the legislation quickly on constitutional grounds.
The House does have another version of the bill, introduced by congressional Democrats, that mimics most of the Senate’s legalization program but cuts out the stiffer enforcement — 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, hundreds of miles of new fencing and more technology — that helped the bill get such a large bipartisan majority in the Senate.
Democrats have said Republicans could bring that bill to the floor and amend it, but Republicans have shown little inclination to do that.
House Republican leaders are under increasing pressure from their rank and file to use the spending process to block Mr. Obama. One option would be to insist that provisions halting the president’s ability to act be included in the massive spending bill Democrats want to pass this year, which would last through Sept. 30.
Another option would be to pass a short-term bill to carry the government into next year, which would give Republicans a chance to see what actions Mr. Obama takes and to respond when they have control of both the House and Senate.
But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Kentucky Republican, rejected that approach in an op-ed to be published in Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call on Tuesday. Mr. Rogers said Republicans should “clear the decks” this year by passing a massive “omnibus” bill, which would mean they could start fresh next year.
“It is critical that we pass an omnibus appropriations bill before the end of the year that will close the books on fiscal 2015, responsibly fund the government and allow the next Congress to get off to a running start,” Mr. Rogers said.
That would, however, push any use of Congress’ power of the purse months into the late summer or early fall, meaning whatever immigration program Mr. Obama creates would have been in effect for months.
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.