By Daniel Newhauser and Rachel Roubein
President Obama is nearing a confrontation with House Republicans over his immigration order.(Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)
House Republicans are close to launching a strike against President Obama’s immigration executive action, a move that could set up a veto fight between a GOP Congress and the Democratic White House, and raise the specter of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said the likeliest scenario is to move a spending bill funding DHS that has already been negotiated among House and Senate appropriators. The bipartisan bill would be released Friday and come to the floor as early as next week, with a separate authorizing amendment that would restrict the agency from using funds to enact the president’s action. That amendment could resemble one Rep. Mick Mulvaney offered last year.
But there is a competing school of thought among some members, who want to add language to the base text of the DHS spending bill choking off money to implement Obama’s order. Doing so would send a symbolic message that it is an integral part of the bill, avoid the appearance of procedural hijinks, and make the vote quicker by avoiding protracted debate on one or more amendments. There is also trepidation among some Republicans that conservatives would vote for the amendment but leave leadership in the lurch by voting against the underlying bill.
The move would undercut appropriators, who have been asserting since last year that such a maneuver is procedurally impossible. Though meetings are ongoing and GOP leaders are set to vet their plans with members at a 10:30 am GOP Conference gathering Friday, Rogers gave reporters a broad outline Thursday of the mechanism to defund U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—the agency tasked with implementing Obama’s executive order.
“Look to see an amendment that would change the basic law in order to give the Congress jurisdiction of the fees,” Rogers said. “How the details of that are put together are still under discussion.”
Whichever path the House takes, passage of the measure would bring Republicans one step closer to a confrontation with Obama over his immigration order and increase the possibility that DHS will run out of money at the end of February.
Some Republicans want to move cautiously so as not to seem as if they are endangering national security, particularly in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to be risky. They’ve got to find a way to do it and they’ve got to do it targeted,” said Rep. Peter King, the former Homeland Security Committee chairman. “I don’t want to have to juxtapose 12 people being massacred in Paris with ‘Republicans cut security funding.’”
Rogers and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul have been communicating throughout the process, and they spent much of Wednesday during House votes talking in the chamber.
Despite the assertion by some conservative Republicans that Congress can move without an authorizing bill, McCaul said he is in lockstep with Rogers in the opinion that a law change, not simply an appropriations rider, is needed. Normally an authorizing bill cannot be added to an appropriations bill on the House floor, but the Rules Committee could make the procedure in order.
“I believe you need to change the law. It needs an authorization, and that’s what we intend to do,” McCaul said. “It’s not an appropriated agency, it’s fee-generated. So you have to change the law so the fees can’t be used for the executive action.”
That position is buoyed by a memo prepared for House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions from the Congressional Research Service, in which the nonpartisan research group noted that prohibiting USCIS from spending money for certain purposes was “within Congress’s constitutional authority to legislate.”