- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Speaker John A. Boehner told his House GOP colleagues Tuesday morning that a judge could be the only thing that can stop President Obama’s deportation amnesties, in comments that signaled just how little power Republican leaders believe they have to push back against the White House’s executive actions.

Mr. Boehner suggested that the House itself could also end up joining the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s immigration moves, further escalating tensions between congressional Republicans and the White House after last year’s lawsuit challenging the legality of the president’s executive actions on Obamacare.

The possibility of a House lawsuit over immigration is the latest twist in a debate that stretches back years, has tremendous implications both politically and for the constitutional division of powers and has most recently twisted the GOP in knots as it tried to grapple with how to counter the president’s executive actions.

The House has already passed a homeland security spending bill that would halt both the 2012 and 2014 amnesties that could cover up to 5 million illegal immigrants, but that bill is likely to face a Democrat-led filibuster in the Senate and an eventual Obama veto, leaving GOP leaders scrambling for a backup plan.

Senate Republicans said Tuesday they will push ahead with the House’s bill, hoping to put Democrats on the spot.

“This is an important fight to have,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “I think we should do everything we can to persuade at least a half-dozen Democrats that they should join us to get this done. Sometimes you don’t know how these legislative battles go if you don’t have them, and we intend to have this one.”

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The latest polling suggests the GOP’s stance is politically popular. Paragon Insights surveyed nearly 1,600 registered voters last week, and found a strong majority of 58 percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s new amnesty for illegal immigrant parents, compared to just 36 percent who supported it. And asked specifically about legislation to overturn the amnesty, voters backed it 53-36.

Democrats, though, vowed to stick by Mr. Obama, with 45 Senate Democrats signing a letter Tuesday demanding the GOP drop its efforts to oppose the president and instead pass a “clean” homeland security funding bill.

“Every day, new threats emerge that endanger our citizens at home and our allies abroad,” they wrote. “We should not cast doubt on future funding for the Department of Homeland Security at a time when the entire nation should be marshaling collective resources to defend against terrorism.”

Republicans have had trouble finding unity on immigration and over how stiffly to push back against Mr. Obama.

GOP leaders had hoped to hold a vote Wednesday on a bill to stiffen border security, but the measure proved too weak for many conservatives, who insisted it also expand interior enforcement. Republican leaders had to nix the vote and tasked the House Judiciary Committee with figuring out the right add-ons to build support for the bill.

The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced a hearing next week to search for ideas on how to bolster interior enforcement.

Mr. Boehner acknowledged he and his lieutenants have had some hiccups on the issue in the new Congress, which began this month.

“Yeah, there’ve been a couple of stumbles, all in our effort to show the American people we’re here to listen to their priorities,” he said to reporters Tuesday morning after emerging from the closed-door meeting with GOP colleagues, where he told them he’s considering taking legal action.

Options include filing a new lawsuit against the Obama administration or joining one of the existing lawsuits, such as the one filed by Texas and joined by two dozen other states, which is challenging the amnesty for parents that Mr. Obama announced in November.

Conservatives welcomed the idea of going to court.

“I think we ought to join that lawsuit — fight this battle on more than one front,” said Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a freshman Florida Republican who has broken with his party on immigration, also said he would be open to supporting a lawsuit, as long as it centers on the constitutional clash of powers rather than on attacking the president’s immigration stance.

“I need to see the lawsuit once it’s drafted, and I think it is very important for the lawsuit to focus on the legality of action, setting aside the policy goals of the action. I support any effort to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

But Democrats said the GOP was showing weakness by “crawling to the courts.”

“Republicans control both houses of Congress, but Speaker Boehner still doesn’t have the wherewithal to legislate,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “House Republicans’ latest lawsuit against the president is an embarrassing admission of failure.”

The Obama administration has made the same argument to the courts, telling a federal judge late Monday that the courts have no power to settle a dispute between the House and the president.

“Fundamental principles of the separation of powers dictate that legislators should pursue their legislative options rather than using the courts to vent purely political grievances,” wrote Joyce R. Branda, the acting assistant attorney general who is leading the legal team defending the administration against the GOP’s lawsuit over Obamacare.

In that case, the House said Mr. Obama overstepped his bounds when he announced a delay in penalties for Obamacare’s employer mandate requiring most businesses to provide health coverage for employers. The president imposed the delay, even though he also had threatened to veto a House bill that would have done the same thing.

Mr. Obama claimed prosecutorial discretion in saying he wouldn’t enforce the mandate. Congressional Republicans argue that the law didn’t give that kind of blanket power.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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