The Corner

Did Obama Undermine His Administrative Amnesty with a Tactical Mistake?

There’s an idea knocking around Capitol Hill that President Obama made a tactical mistake by unveiling his executive orders on immigration so early in the lame-duck session, with a government funding measure yet to be negotiated.

Some Republicans believe that, by revealing the exact details of his executive orders, Obama gave the House the information it needs to write a legislation prohibiting him from using any money for the implementation of those orders. Basically, it’s a 2nd-and-1 situation, according to this line of thinking: Republicans can go for it all right now, and if they get stopped, they still have time to pass an alternative funding measure before the government runs out of money in mid December.

This view is not universally held. A senior Senate aide said that it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Senate procedure, because outgoing Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has the authority to call up an alternative to any House-passed bill that interferes with Obama’s immigration orders.

Proponents of this idea aren’t swayed by that argument, though, because they don’t think that Reid would want to go through the time-consuming process required to ignore a House-passed omnibus spending bill. He would have to invoke cloture three times to take up an alternative, which would take up a week. And, Reid’s ability to call up an alternative is limited to the House appropriations bills that are currently on the Senate calendar. 

“Rule XVI in the Senate limits what can be added to these bills,” another senior Senate aide suggested. “In short, Reid cannot take up [for instance, a military construction] approps bill and add an omnibus.”

Instead, “the most likely outcome would be to take the House bill and try to amend it to make it more acceptable to Senate Democrats,” this aide said. “This was the procedure he followed during the shutdown last year. The only difference here is that Reid had a simple majority to remove the defund provisions relating to Obamacare last year whereas he may not have a simple majority to remove provisions blocking the president’s executive amnesty this year.”

These Republicans see a few pockets of potential support in the Democratic caucus: four red-state Senate Democrats voted against Obama’s original deferred-action program earlier this summer. Since the election, Senator Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) and Senator Angus King, the Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, have opposed Obama’s orders. And retiring Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) made a statement about Congress’s authority to withhold funding for presidential priorities that raised hopes old-guard Senate institutionalists might break with Obama.

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