Senate Democrats are filibustering a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which runs out of spending authority February 26, because it also blocks a number of President Obama’s unilateral executive actions on immigration. At least six Senate Democrats have opposed some of those policies but – predictably enough – claim this is not the time or the manner in which to challenge them.
But there is no time like the present, and the funding bill is a perfectly appropriate vehicle. The amnesty program is about to begin, and once underway, it will almost be impossible to reverse. Both parties make a routine practice of attaching riders to funding bills; it’s not procedure that Democrats object to, but the notion of doing anything real to reverse Obama’s power grab.
Wavering Democrats should heed the counsel of federal judge Andrew Hanen, who this week temporarily blocked the implementation of the president’s November amnesty for adult illegal immigrants. Whether the courts determine the amnesty to be strictly illegal (and determine states can sue over it) or not, the ruling should remind those Democrats that they were right in the first place: The president is making immigration policy in dangerously unprecedented ways, usurping powers he repeatedly said he did not have.
If Democrats allow debate to go forward on the DHS bill, it could be amended to oppose a narrower range of policies, rather than everything significant that the president has done on immigration. A bill that just targets the president’s most recent, most offensive amnesty – from November – is most likely to attract Democratic support (or at least acquiescence) and would put the president in the most politically problematic position.
But if Senate Democrats will not allow the bill to be amended, it falls to the House to advance a bill that will put them in a tougher political bind. That means focusing on the November amnesty and not taking the risk of a deadlock that shuts off funding authority for all of DHS in two weeks. Even though such a DHS “shutdown” would have little effect on department operations, and Democratic intransigence would have as much to do with it as Republican insistence on reversing Obama’s amnesty, Republicans would still likely get the blame, as they almost always do in these confrontations.
Some conservatives have suggested taking this opportunity to get rid of the filibuster, to allow Republicans to send the current bill to the president’s desk over the objections of Senate Democrats. But that is a myopic shortcut. President Obama would simply veto the bill.
What might the right approach look like? The House can offer to fund most of DHS in one bill, and the federal immigration bureaucracy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in another, with the latter bill blocking the president’s November amnesty. This would narrow the debate and make it much harder for Democrats to argue that the Republican plan is inappropriate or risky.
Many House Republicans, as demonstrated by their votes regarding the earlier bill, would like to undo a broader array of the president’s immigration actions. So would we.
But Republicans will never have the leverage to succeed in opposing every action of the president’s that they dislike. Reasserting constitutional limits on the president’s authority requires a politically plausible strategy. Splitting the bill would offer a debate in the Senate that should put more pressure on both Democrats and President Obama.
They will surely remain uncooperative, but a narrowly tailored bill would at least put a tighter focus on their stand for a lawless immigration policy. Splitting the bill can also serve as a tolerable final offer for Republicans. If Democrats block an immigration-funding bill with restrictions, then no immigration-funding bill has to pass: It is not as politically vital to fund the immigration bureaucracy as it is to fund the rest of the homeland-security department. Refusing to fund that bureaucracy will, at the very least, ensure that Republicans aren’t affirmatively complicit in funding Obama’s extra-constitutional policy.
This week’s news suggests it’s quite possible the judiciary will put an end to the president’s most recent immigration overreach. But the surest remedy to this constitutional crisis is a political response. Splitting the bill is the best one we’ve heard.