By Scott Wong,Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos – 11/14/14 04:07 PM EST
Conservative House Republicans say they’re willing to shut down the government to prevent President Obama from carrying out what they see as unconstitutional actions on immigration.
Tea Party lawmakers emboldened by the GOP’s big midterm gains say they will insist on attaching a policy rider to legislation keeping the government open that would block funding for agencies carrying out Obama’s promised executive actions limiting deportations.
If the Democratic Senate or Obama rejects the rider, the government could shut down. A current measure funding the government expires on Dec. 12.
“I am insisting on that [rider] because the president is violating his executive privilege,” GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents the border state of Arizona, said in an interview Friday.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) called the plan to block the executive action through the government-funding bill “a great idea.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the June GOP primary in part by accusing his opponent of supporting “amnesty,” said he also backed the proposal.
Asked if a government shutdown would be worth halting Obama’s immigration action, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) replied: “When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not appropriate to contemplate the political consequences. You should uphold the Constitution come what may.”
The call to arms by conservatives is a challenge for GOP leaders in both chambers, who also oppose executive action by Obama but acknowledge they have not settled on a plan to stop it.
“There’s no decision on the strategy, but we know for one thing that the president should not move forward,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday.
It’s unclear what Obama will do, but reports this week that he is considering expanding an existing program that defers the deportation of children who entered the U.S. illegally to both their parents and additional children have provoked outrage on the right.
Obama’s proposals could give legal status to 5 million people, some reports suggest.
Republicans say there’s no consensus in the broader GOP conference about how to respond when Obama issues his executive order as early as next week.
Just a year ago, conservative Republicans led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz closed the government for 16 days in a failed bid to defund ObamaCare. GOP leaders taking over the Senate would like to avoid a repeat of that scenario.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Thursday that Republicans would not shut down the government or default on the nation’s debt.
But hours later, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), fresh off winning another two years in the top spot, said the GOP would “fight tooth and nail” to stop Obama and that all options remained on the table.
Senior GOP aides said the Republican response could be a combination of blocking executive-branch nominees when Republicans take over the Senate next year and expanding a GOP lawsuit against Obama to cover his immigration action.
More moderate Republicans are trying to talk their conservative colleagues down from the ledge, warning that the GOP surely will be blamed for another shutdown. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is plowing ahead with a clean omnibus package that would keep the government open through September 2015.
That approach has the support of senior appropriators, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
“I don’t blame people for being mad and proposing ideas,” Cole said. “I personally think it’s just a losing strategy. It didn’t work for ObamaCare. There’s no way it’s going to work here… My view is shutting down the government is never the appropriate remedy.”
One incoming freshman elected in last week’s GOP wave, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo, was reserving judgment and even suggested Obama’s executive immigration action could be legal.
“I recognize that every president has executive authority. The extent of that authority is in question,” said Curbelo, a Cuban-American who supports the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill. “Let’s see how the president decides to act.”
But many other moderates and conservatives are echoing Boehner’s talking points: Nothing at this point should be taken off the table.
“I certainly don’t want a government shutdown but the Speaker said everything has to be on the table if the president is taking what we consider to be unconstitutional action,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “We’re going to have to take action back. I hope it never reaches that stage though.”
“No one wants to risk a government shutdown,” added Tea Party Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who is Hispanic. “But this is an important enough issue that all options need to be on the table.”
While Republicans took a hit in the polls last year, conservatives believe Obama and Democrats would be blamed in Round 2.
“I think there is plenty of opportunity here that doesn’t risk a government shutdown but if the cards are played, America knows who was responsible for shutting down the government last time,” said Gosar. “It was very clear it wasn’t Republicans and it wasn’t Congress.”
House conservatives have been coordinating an immigration response with allies in the Senate. But Steve King, the immigration hard-liner from Iowa, wouldn’t offer specifics about whether he’s spoken with Cruz or incoming Senate Budget Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about the plan.
“I wouldn’t be able to say that I walked over to that side of the Capitol,” King said. “We have an open communication between our staff so that dialogue does take place.”
But King took aim at establishment Republicans like McConnell for immediately ruling out a shutdown.
“It is the equivalent of the president in our battle with ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] saying there will be no boots on the ground,” King said.