President Obama is still planning to issue executive orders on immigration policy that could possibly grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, but conservatives in the U.S. Senate are planning to cut off funding to implement the changes if Obama makes good on his vow.
At a Wednesday press conference, Obama said he planned to issue his orders before the end of the year and will be acting within his authority. When asked if such action would poison any hopes of a cooperative working relationship with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate over the next two years, Obama said if Congress passes a reform plan that he approves, then the legislation would trump his unilateral actions.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, flatly rejects Obama’s plan and his argument. A constitutional attorney in his private career, Lee said it’s not difficult to determine whether Obama’s actions would pass constitutional muster.
“No. Absolutely not,” he said. “He doesn’t have the power to issue green cards to people who are not eligible for green cards under the law. The first clause of the first section of the first article of our Constitution says that all ‘legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.'”
Lee added, “Those words aren’t just there for decoration. They mean something. The Founding Fathers put in place a government that was one in which the laws made at the federal level will be made by the people’s elected representatives. He doesn’t have the power to contravene those, not without Congress passing a law to change those laws.”
As a result of Obama’s intention to push forward with executive actions on immigration, Lee and five other Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They urged Reid to withhold funding for the executive branch in the upcoming continuing resolution if Obama does act and promised to fight for it themselves if Reid doesn’t agree to help them.
Lee said the power of the purse is the strongest weapon lawmakers have to stop an unconstitutional policy in its tracks.
“We think that Congress needs to do everything it possibly can to oppose President Obama’s threat to undo existing immigration law by executive order,” he said. “We believe that Congress needs to use its power of the purse to withhold funds from any effort on the part of the president to issue green cards to people who aren’t eligible for them under the law.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah:
Congress needs to act to keep the government funded past Dec. 11, but Lee’s strategy is almost certain to draw accusations that he and his conservative allies are threatening to shut down the federal government to get their way on an issue. It’s the same charge lodged by Democrats and some Republicans when Lee and Cruz led an effort last year to keep funding for Obamacare out of appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014.
Lee called the suggestion that he is threatening to shut down the government “absolute nonsense.”
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask and the American people don’t think it’s too much to ask to say we’re agreeing to fund government,” he said. “We ought to be able to attach at least a mild restriction that says, ‘By the way, we want you to follow the law and not violate the law with the money we’re appropriating.'”
On Wednesday, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., strongly urged President Obama not to act on his own with respect to immigration policy, likening such a move to waving a red flag in front of a bull. However, he also vowed no government shutdowns on his watch.
“Those two comments aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive or in conflict with anything that I’m saying,” Lee said.
Lee said beyond listening to Republicans in Congress urging him not to act unilaterally, Obama needs to listen to the millions of voters who spoke this week.
“He needs to consider what he’s doing to the American people, whose voices have just been heard loudly and clearly and who deserve to have their voices make a difference in Washington when they go to the polls,” he said.
The senator believes it is up to Congress to change immigration law. He remains adamant that a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to failure and that this process must take place one step at a time.
“We need to pass one piece of legislation that would strengthen our border and call for the completion of the entry-exit system that Congress has been calling for since 1996. We need another bill that will update and modernize or reform our legal immigration system, bringing our visa programs into the 21st century,” said Lee, who believes seeing results on those issues sets the stage for addressing other concerns.
“Once those two things are in place, meaning once they’re legislated and implemented, I think we’ll be in a much better position to figure out how best to deal with the people who are here illegally already in a manner that’s compassionate but also respects the rule of law,” he said.