Restraint. That’s the attitude Republican leadership is urging the party’s rank and file to adopt ahead of the president’s issuance of an executive amnesty for approximately 5 million illegal immigrants tonight.
While Texas senator Ted Cruz is calling the president a monarch and urging Congress to respond to an amnesty by refusing to confirm any of the administration’s nominees when the 115th Congress convenes in January, and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and others are looking to withhold funding from various federal agencies, House and Senate leaders are showing little appetite for those sorts of fights.
They’re also not offering an alternative strategy of their own, a frustration that many across the political spectrum expressed the last time a government crisis loomed, and when Cruz and his cohorts filled the vacuum and shut down the government.
In remarks on the Senate floor on Thursday, Mitch McConnell, who will become the Senate majority leader in January, promised a forceful congressional response to the president’s actions, but declined to endorse any particular response or to outline one of his own. “If President Obama acts in defiance of the people and imposes his will on the country, Congress will act,” McConnell said. In a video response posted to YouTube early Wednesday evening, House Speaker John Boehner said the president is acting like a “king” and an “emperor” but, like McConnell, did not endorse any of the strategies floated by his colleagues or articulate his own.
McConnell’s deliberate lack of clarity left many scratching their heads. “I think what you’re going to see McConnell doing is urging restraint,” one Republican lawmaker says. A McConnell aide seemed to rule out entirely the possibility of thwarting nominees put up by the administration. A McConnell spokesman pointedly refused to endorse the Cruz strategy.
GOP leaders have also expressed an aversion to withholding funding from various congressional agencies or using stopgop spending bills to fund the government. Since early November, when Arizona congressman Matt Salmon began circulating a letter to his colleagues demanding that House appropriators exclude funding for work permits and green cards in any funding bill that’s sent to the president’s desk, leaders and their aides have worried that the tactic would lead to another government shutdown. Now, House appropriators are saying they simply can’t withhold funding from the federal agency tasked with carrying out the president’s executive order, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, because it is funded automatically regardless of congressional action.
The one avenue Republican leaders have not ruled out, either explicitly or implicitly, is a lawsuit — in particular, adding the amnesty to Boehner’s lawsuit against the president, which is already underway. So, as Republican leaders worry the right flank of their caucus will indulge in overheated rhetoric and bring the government once again to the brink of a shutdown, conservatives are concerned that their leadership’s response to tonight’s announcement will be chest-beating statements with no follow through.