John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Questions and More Questions About the Future of Immigration Reform

Posted on November 13, 2014
Obama Health Care Speech to Joint Session of Congress.jpg

"Obama Health Care Speech to Joint Session of Congress" by Lawrence Jackson - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Will Congress and the President come to a meeting of the minds on fixing our broken immigration system or will they continue to play to their political bases in hope that they retain the upper hand on the issue?

That ‘s the big question that hangs over this whole debate.

The President misplayed the issue going into the midterms by promising and then not acting on his promise to use his executive authority to grant legal status to 5 million undocumented immigrants.

The Republicans played a complicated game of exciting their base against the President’s promise of action just as they aggressively reached out to Hispanic voters on other issues.

In fact, around the country, Republicans did better among those Hispanic voters than expected.  Greg Abbot, for example, got close to 50% of this critical voting bloc in his race for Texas Governor.

Mr. Obama passed up the opportunity to take on immigration reform in the first two years of his Administration, and ever since that time, has had to rely on Republicans to pick up the baton, something they have been reluctant to do.

Mr. Obama made several promises throughout the year that he would expand DACA program, only to change his mind and postpone a decision until after the voters had spoken.

The voters spoke loud and clear and what they said proved to be cold comfort to an increasingly unpopular White House.

Republicans had a mandate from a healthy portion of their political base:  Don’t allow the President to use his executive powers to provide amnesty to the undocumented.  And it is with that message that Republicans confront a President who doesn’t seem chastened in the least from the election results.

In fact, he signed a climate change deal earlier this week with the Chinese, despite the fact that not once did the issue help any campaign win an election (and in fact, hurt Democrats in Kentucky and West Virginia).

Democrats have asked the President to wait until after December 11 (when the CR/Omni should theoretically be completed), before broadcasting his decision on DACA.  But the latest reports I hear is that the President may make public his decision next week.

What does that in-your-face-decision portend for the future of Congressional-Executive relations?

Probably not anything positive.

The President, in fact, seems to be purposely baiting the Republicans and ignoring the wishes of his once stalwart allies in the Democratic Party.

How will the Republicans respond?

Some conservatives want a short-term continuing resolution so that they can use the power of the purse to countermand Mr. Obama’s executive order early next year.

The leadership, at the moment, seems less inclined to take that route, instead preferring to separate the spending issues from the policy issues.

Will the President’s executive order stop progress on reform or spur action?

Republicans have said it will spoil the well, but what does that mean precisely.

The only way to over-turn the President’s executive order is to get him to sign something that overturns it.  What would that include?  If it’s not the spending bills (which the leadership is taking off the table), could they bargain with the debt limit?

That seems unlikely, as the issues are disconnected in a policy sense, and it doesn’t seem like the leaders have any appetite to put the full faith and credit on the line.

They could include a rider in the Omnibus package (should one go forward) that prohibits the spending of any money to implement his executive order, but it is highly unlikely that Senate Democrats, who still control the Upper Chamber, would agree to that provision.

So, if spending bills are off the table, it seems that the only thing that Republicans could do, other than try to impeach the President, is pass their own version of immigration reform.

Is that possible?

It seems highly unlikely that the Senate would go first in that scenario.  On two separate occasions, 2005 and last year, the Senate went first, and in neither case, did the comprehensive bills move anywhere.

The House could go first, using the step by step approach outlined by the Speaker last year.

First, would be border security.  Second would be internal enforcement.  Third would be a repeal of the President’s executive order.  Fourth, would be pro-business provisions, including high and low tech workers.  Fifth, a plan to deal with the 11 million immigrants who have no legal status.  And sixth, could be the Republicans version of DACA, who knows what that would look like.

Will House Republicans take all six steps or will they focus on step number 3, and send something to the Senate for further action?

The new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has made it clear that he doesn’t want the House to send him any legislation that he can’t take up in his chamber.  He doesn’t want messaging bills coming his way.

There is a pretty solid wing of conservatives, in both chambers, who are dead set against anything getting done on this.  The question is, outside of impeachment, what are they willing to do to get the President to sign a bill that erases his executive order?

Of course, there are other issues that the Republicans want to consider in the coming Congress.  They want to repeal, replace or at least adjust Obamacare.  They want to pass a budget.  They want to reform the tax code.  They want to deal with entitlements.  And they want to govern.

How much of a distraction does immigration become and what point do Republicans decide that dealing with the issue is far better than letting it fester?