WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., vehemently scolded a congressional witness for suggesting Republicans opposed President Obama's amnesty order because he is black.
In an answer to a question from a Democrat earlier in the Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on the legality of Obama's amnesty order, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, claimed Congress is treating Obama differently than other presidents because he is the first black chief executive.
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When it came time for his questioning, Gowdy asked Hincapie, "You suggested race was the basis for why we may have this constitutional perspective; did I understand you correctly?"
When her response rambled, Gowdy interjected, "For you to run to race as the explanation for why we hold the position that we do ... Harry Reid had a very different perspective on recess appointments when there was a Texan in the White House and none of us accused him of geographic discrimination."
Clearly exasperated and his voice rising, Gowdy then unloaded on the witness, telling her, "In fact, hell, for that matter, Sen. Obama had a different perspective on executive overreach than President Obama and nobody runs to race as an explanation for that. So I would just caution you to be careful when you try to import motives to people."
Watch video of Rep. Trey Gowdy:
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Hincapie had cited immigration orders issued by GOP presidents, but Republicans on the committee noted those presidents merely made minor adjustments to immigration laws Congress had just passed, rather than making major changes or creating law.
Judiciary committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., began the hearing by calling Obama's amnesty order "one of the biggest constitutional power grabs, ever, by a president."
Goodlatte said Obama had abused the principle of prosecutorial discretion unlike any other president in history, simply because he's "upset that Congress won't change America's immigration laws to his liking."
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Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, cited a recent poll showing Americans oppose Obama's amnesty order by 48-to-38 percent, and observed, "This amounts to a declaration of war against American workers."
All four of the expert witness expressed support for immigration reform, but three strongly disagreed with the president's action.
"If he can do this and get away with it, maybe future presidents will suspend parts of the Affordable Care Act," warned Chapman University Law professor Ronald Rotunda.
"Congress doesn't fail when it fails to enact a presidential proposal," he added.
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As for Obama's claim he is merely exercising prosecutorial discretion by not enforcing immigration law, Rotunda said such discretion applies to those who violate criminal law, but the courts have ruled deportation is civil law, not criminal.
Attorney Thomas Dupree, an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, said it was very different to decide how to use limited resources under prosecutorial discretion, and to create a whole new class of immigrants immune to the law.
He said prosecutorial discretion was supposed to apply only to individual cases, not whole classes of people.
Attorney Jay Sekulow, founder of the American Center for Law and Justice, echoed that, but also noted the president himself had claimed to have changed the law, and not merely decided not to enforce the law.
He said he was actually sympathetic to the policy behind the president's order, but he could find no constitutional basis for it.
Sekulow explained how, under the Constitution, Congress writes the law, the president executes it and the Supreme Court interprets it, and by changing the law unilaterally by himself, Obama had far exceeded his authority.
Hincapie was the one witness who supported the president's move. She contended, because Obama's order did not confer any legal status on illegal immigrants, the law had not been changed, but deportations merely had been temporarily deferred.
At the beginning of the hearing, Goodlatte showed a series of video clips of Obama's previous assertions that he did not have the authority to do issue such an order, including the president saying he wished he could change the law by himself, "But that's not how our system works. That's not how our Constitution is written," and, "The problem is, I'm not the emperor of the United States, I am the president."
Goodlatte then quoted the Washington Post fact-checker as having observed, "Apparently, he's changed his mind."
One measure would fund all government operations until the end of the fiscal year in October 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS.
Another bill would fund DHS only until March 2015, by which time the GOP will have control of the Senate as well as the House.
That would allow the GOP to then challenge any DHS spending that would implement the amnesty provisions announced by Obama on Nov. 20.
A separate, largely symbolic bill designed to appease conservatives, one which the still Democrat-controlled Senate would likely ignore, would state the executive branch does not have the constitutional authority to exempt some people from immigration laws.
Conservatives would rather block any funding for amnesty immediately, but GOP leaders are wary of taking the blame for another government shutdown because Democrats would almost certainly not go along with such a bill. The current bill funding the government expires Dec. 11.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, told WND he saw the power of the purse wielded by Congress as the only effective tool to stop amnesty.
"I've been through two so-called government shutdowns. The doomsayers said if we allowed Obama to close the government, we would lose. The only person who lost was the majority leader (Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.), who opposed the shutdown."
The congressman said the shutdown over a GOP attempt to block Obamacare was actually what propelled Republicans to a landslide victory in the 2014 midterm elections.
"Republicans should not be blackmailed by Obama on immigration. Let America know, we Republicans stand against illegal acts by the president," Stockman concluded.
Obama has declared he will unilaterally halt deportations of millions of illegal aliens despite strong objections of many in Congress and widespread opposition from the American public.
Obama also challenged Congress on the legality of his actions.
"The actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democratic president for the past half-century," he said. "And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill."
Obama added: "I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary."
The Obama administration says it is focusing on "deporting felons, not families." Entering the country illegally is a misdemeanor, but doing it a second time is a felony.
Obama's action will provide what the president calls temporary relief from the threat of deportation and provide authorization to legally work in the United States for three years.
According to a White House memo:
Individuals will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for three years at a time if they come forward and register, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born before the date of this announcement.
More details of Obama's directive:
- It will protect as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation and grant them work permits.
- More than 4 million illegal immigrants who have been in the country for five years will be eligible, including parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
- AS many as 300,000 immigrants who arrived in the country before the age of 16 will be eligible. That is an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, executive order issued by Obama two years ago.
- Amnesty applicants will go through criminal and national security background checks.
- They will be required to pay a fee and taxes (although most low-income earners receive tax credits.)
- "More resources" will be promised to strengthen border security and to deport recently arrived illegal immigrants.
- Immigration court proceedings will be "streamlined."
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have challenged the legality of the amnesty order.
Democrats who believe the president should not have acted unilaterally to impose amnesty include: Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.; Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; and Al Franken, D-Minn.
Manchin told CNN: "I just wish he (Obama) wouldn't do it. I really don't. I just think we ought to work through this process and, with the new elections and the results of the elections, we ought to try in January to see if we can find a pathway to get something accomplished."
Senator-elect Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.: "The president is trying to illegally legalize illegal individuals. This declaration crosses the line into legal gymnastics."
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas: "Tonight President Obama issued an oral royal decree that will be followed by a written regal decree, as any good monarch would do. This unlawful, blatant executive action would legalize more than 5 million people here illegally. This president is single-handedly creating a constitutional crisis and hurting the citizens he took an oath to protect and defend."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah: "In a desperate attempt to remain relevant, the president has decided to defy the American people, ignore the election results, and usurp the legislative process. This act demonstrates he respects neither election outcomes, nor the rule of law. It will make the humanitarian crisis at the border worse, and could potentially create a constitutional crisis within our republic. Congress must respond to restore the proper checks and balances to our constitutional order, and it must do so quickly and forcefully."
Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer: "It is very clear that he is making an announcement to all those people waiting around the world to get into the U.S. legally that they are chumps. If he felt so strongly about announcing this, why did he wait until after the election? Because he knew had he announced it earlier, and, after all, it's supposed to be so urgent, he would have damaged the Democrat's chances in the election."
Rep Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.: "Attempts to undermine the law via executive fiat, regardless of motivation, are dangerous. The president himself recognized his inability to do what he just did – 22 separate times. This action is not only detrimental to any chance in the new Congress for a sustainable, long-term solution on immigration, but also to the bedrock of our system of government – respect for the rule of law."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas: "The truest words in the president's remarks tonight were when he said that many would see this as sticking it to middle-class families who've gotten a raw deal over the past several years. He's exactly right. That's what he's doing – sticking it to middle-class families who are struggling and hurt by the Obama policies. They just been hurt again; this is wrong."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.: "President Obama is not above the law and has no right to issue executive amnesty. His actions blatantly ignore the separation of powers and the principles our country was founded on. The president has said 22 times previously that he does not have the power to legislate on immigration. I will not sit idly by and let the president bypass Congress and our Constitution."
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.: “President Obama’s decision to utterly bypass Congress and grant amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants – against the will of the American people – is lawless, unconstitutional and, frankly, un-American. The separation of powers was carefully written into our Constitution by our Founders to ensure that no one individual would have the power to override the will of the American people. The president’s unprecedented abuse of executive orders is an affront to the voice of the people."
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas: "Presidential power long ago broke out of its constitutional shackles, but Barack Obama has taken it even further, to dangerous extremes. He has taken the disastrous hubris of Obamacare and applied it to our national security policy."
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa: "We have to shut off the funding that he would use to implement or enforce this unconstitutional executive amnesty edict. I am hopeful that our leadership will come together with the rest of us that have also taken an oath to uphold the Constitution; we've got to keep our word and our oath, whether the president keeps his or not. Stay tuned, Congress will act. We must act."
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: "The American people do not want unilateral amnesty; they want law enforcement and border control. Tonight, President Obama ruined his chances of working with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to address immigration. Instead he acted politically, in his own interests and not those of the American people or the millions of immigrants who are legally trying to become American citizens."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “We need immigration reform. But the right way to do it is to first bring illegal immigration under control by securing the borders and enforcing the laws, then modernizing our legal immigration system. After we do these things, we will eventually have to deal with those here illegally in a reasonable but responsible way. The president’s actions now make all of this harder and are unfair to people in our immigration system who are doing things the right way.”
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