Legislative Update: 11/11/2014
At White House, Congressional Leaders Warn President Re Executive Action
At the White House Friday, Congressional leaders warned President Obama not to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens by executive fiat. The warning came during a luncheon President Obama organized for Congressional leaders to discuss the post-election policy agenda. Thirteen of the top 16 congressional leaders attended, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). (Politico, Nov. 9, 2014) According to several sources, most of the two-hour meeting was spent discussing immigration.
Although GOP leaders signaled a willingness to work on immigration, they insisted legislation would be off the table if the President acts alone. According to his office, House Speaker John Boehner informed the President that executive action will “erase any chances” of Congress passing immigration reform. (Readout of Speaker’s Meeting, Nov. 7, 2014) In a press release, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “I made clear to the President that we should tackle immigration reform together on a step-by-step basis, beginning with border security and respect for the rule of law.” (Cornyn Press Release, Nov. 7, 2014)
These warnings were similar to those Republicans made earlier in the week. The day after the election, Minority Leader McConnell, who is expected to become Senate Majority Leader, used his first press conference after Election Day to admonish the President for his planned unilateral action. Calling executive action “a big mistake,” McConnell said, “It’s an issue a lot of my members want to address legislatively.” (See National Review, Nov. 5, 2014) He continued, “it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, ‘If you guys don’t do what I want, I’m going to do it on my own.’” (Id.)
Likewise, during a Thursday press conference Speaker Boehner criticized the President’s plan to act alone. “I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,” Boehner said. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 6, 2014 (subscription needed)) “When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path,” he added. (Id.) Interestingly, Boehner, who most believe supports “reform,” did not include immigration in his five-point agenda for the new Congress. (See Pillars of a Renewed Majority, Nov. 7, 2014)
Despite voters rejecting his immigration policies on Election Day, President Obama nonetheless is doubling down on his planned executive amnesty. (See FAIR Press Release, Nov. 6, 2014) According to the White House read-out of Friday’s meeting, the President “reiterated his commitment to taking action on immigration reform in light of the House’s inability to pass a comprehensive bill.” (Readout of the President’s Meeting, Nov. 7, 2014)
Congress returns to work Wednesday, and passing a budget is expected to be the top priority for the lame duck session because the government is currently only funded until mid-December.
Obama Vows to Keep Promise, Grant Executive Amnesty
The day after Election Day, President Obama held an hour-long press conference in which he vowed to grant an executive amnesty to millions of illegal aliens by the end of the year. (Transcript of White House Press Conference, Nov. 5, 2014; see FAIR Immigration Issues, Nov. 5, 2014; FAIR Press Release, Nov. 6, 2014)
Notably, as he fielded questions from reporters, the President refused to see the election results as a referendum on his immigration policies, even when prodded to respond to Republican claims that it was. The President did acknowledge that the American people “sent a message,” and claimed that he heard it. (Transcript of White House Press Conference, Nov. 5, 2014) However, the message, he insisted, was not a repudiation of his policies, but merely that elected officials should work hard and “get the job done.” (Id.) According to the President, this message is therefore the same “one that they’ve sent for several elections now,” even though the results of the last several elections have been widely divergent. (Id.)
President Obama also seemed to dismiss the legitimacy of the midterm elections because they have lower turnout than presidential elections and no single figure on the ballot nationwide. He said: “to the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate… I hear you, too,” and “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district,” thus the people want him to “break through the gridlock, and get stuff done.” (Id.)
Sticking to his theory that the message voters sent was that they want Congress to act, President Obama urged the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate to act on amnesty legislation. He said he felt Speaker Boehner “was sincere” in wanting to pass the Senate bill, but “had difficulty over the last year getting it done” due to objections of rank-and-file Republicans. (Id.) However, he continued, now that the Republicans have “larger majorities” in the House and “control both chambers of Congress,” they may have “more confidence” to “pass their agenda and get a bill on my desk.” (Id.) He said he was “eager” to see “what they have to offer,” whether in “the lame duck or next year.” (Id.)
Reporters pressed the President on why he would carry out an executive amnesty when Republicans have said that would end any chance of “comprehensive” immigration reform legislation. (Id.) In response, he insisted that he had “heard that argument” for two years, “shown a lot of patience,” and given Speaker Boehner “space and room to get something done,” but that he would no longer wait. (Id.) However, he said, Republicans could still join him in passing amnesty, because any bill he is willing to sign would “supersede” executive actions he takes on his own. (Id.)
In an interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, President Obama repeated what he said about immigration in his press conference. (CBS News Transcript, Nov. 9, 2014) Again he repeated that he would implement an executive amnesty, but that that because it would “take time” to implement, he hoped that in the interim, the Republicans in Congress would pass a bill “on parallel track.” (Id.) He would be happy to see such a bill, he explained, because it would be “permanent rather than temporary.” (Id.)
Six Senators Seek to Block Executive Amnesty in Lame Duck
The day after the election, six Republican Senators warned Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that if he did not block Obama’s executive action during the lame duck session, they would use procedural measures to keep the Senate focused on resolving the resulting “constitutional crisis.” (Letter to Reid, Nov. 5, 2014)
On Wednesday, Mike Crapo (R-ID), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) delivered a stern warning to Reid in a letter. The Senators expressed alarm that if President Obama grants an executive amnesty as he has promised to do before the end of the year, such unilateral action would be a violation of the Constitutional principle of separation of powers. (Id.) In an interview last week, Senator Lee elaborated, “Article 1, Section 8 is very clear. The power to come up with a uniform set of laws governing immigration and naturalization belongs to Congress, not the president.” (Fox News, Nov. 7, 2014)
In the letter, the Republicans reminded Senator Reid, that as part of his responsibilities in his remaining days as Majority Leader, he is charged with defending the authority of Congress from intrusions by other branches of government. (Letter to Reid, Nov. 5, 2014) Senator Sessions offered one way that Reid could fulfill his responsibility to protect Congress in a separation of powers crisis: “when the House sends their bill over to the appropriate money to carry on the government for a continuing resolution… it should bar any expenditure of money to carry out such an executive amnesty.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Nov. 7, 2014)
Although the six Senators offered “full assistance” to Reid if he blocked executive amnesty, they also threatened to act in the event Reid did not. (Letter to Reid, Nov. 5, 2014) The Senators warned that they were ready to “use all procedural means necessary” to preserve the Constitution. The letter did not list what maneuvers the Senators were contemplating, but possibilities include stalling any legislative activity and maybe even shutting down the government. (The Hill, Nov. 6, 2014)
In press releases, signers of the letter underscored their objections to the upcoming amnesty. Senator Crapo said, “I am deeply concerned about the President’s intentions to selectively enforce our immigration system to achieve his desired policy agenda.” (Crapo Press Release, Nov. 5, 2014) In addition, Senator Vitter added, “Not only is it unconstitutional, it’s incredibly dangerous – for our national security, public health and our economy.” (Vitter Press Release, Nov. 5, 2014)
Immigration Enforcement Wins Big in the States
When President Obama asked voters to put his “policies on the ballot this fall,” voters spoke loud and clear about their support for immigration enforcement. (FAIR Press Release, Nov. 6, 2014; Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2014; National Review, Nov. 5, 2014) Elected officials who supported state and local assistance in the enforcement of our immigration laws saw their policies validated on Tuesday.
For example Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a true immigration reformer, was re-elected by a wide margin. Kobach spent much of his time in office allied with the Immigration Reform Law Institute and helped to defend jurisdictions with strong enforcement laws against attacks from the illegal alien lobby. (Governing, Mar. 2012; Topeka Capital Journal; Sept. 19, 2012) Kobach also fought to protect election integrity during his term by pushing for proof of citizenship requirements to prevent election fraud. (Kansas City Star, Nov. 4, 2014) Accordingly, he was recently labeled “America’s Worst Republican” by The New Republic, a newspaper that supports amnesty. (New Republic, Sept. 19, 2014) Despite attacks by amnesty supporters, voters re-elected Kobach by an 18 point margin. (Kansas City Star, Nov. 4, 2014)
Prominent sheriffs around the country who have taken a stand against illegal immigration also won big on Tuesday. Notably, voters re-elected Frederick County, Maryland Sheriff Chuck Jenkins and Rockingham County, North Carolina Sheriff Sam Page, who both adamantly support local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. (Washington Post, Nov. 5, 2014; Rockingham Now, Feb. 12, 2014) This summer, Jenkins and Page, along with Sheriffs from around the country, embarked on a fact-finding trip this year to get a firsthand look at the influx of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the United States and voiced their opposition to policies that restrict cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). (WAMU, July 15, 2014)
Oregon voters also made a big statement on Tuesday by overwhelming rejecting a law passed in 2013 that would grant driver’s license cards to illegal aliens. (Oregon Live, Nov. 10, 2014) Ballot Measure 88, which put Senate Bill “S.B.” 833 up for voter approval, was defeated by a landslide of 68% of voters in favor of vetoing S.B. 833, with only 32% in support of the law. (Id.) Opposition to Measure 88 got more votes than any candidate or measure on the Oregon ballot — despite the illegal alien lobby outspending opponents by over ten to one. (Breitbart, Oct. 21, 2014; National Review, Nov. 5, 2014)
Voters also validated Maine Governor Paul LePage’s tough stance on restricting public benefits from illegal aliens. This summer, Governor LePage ordered Maine’s municipalities to comply with federal law and directed the Department of Health and Human Services to remove illegal aliens from General Assistance, a taxpayer-funded program that purchases food and housing for individuals who cannot afford them. (DHHS Press Release) Neither Maine law nor federal law allows illegal aliens to receive public benefits. (Portland Press Herald, June 12, 2014; 8 U.S.C. 1621(a)) Voters re-elected Governor LePage for another term as well.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez also won re-election after working for years to repeal a decade-old law that allows illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses. (Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2013) New Mexico, which has issued driver’s licenses to illegal aliens since 2003, has seen high occurrences of document and identity fraud as a result of allowing those who cannot prove lawful presence in the United States to receive driver’s licenses. (CNN, Jan. 24, 2013; Albuquerque Journal, Jan. 25, 2014) “We have created an industry of human trafficking,” Martinez said. (CNN, Jan. 24, 2013) “People are getting paid to bring other people from all over the country to New Mexico for the whole purpose of defrauding our state.” (Id.) Governor Martinez won re-election by a 14-point margin.
These election results reflect voter opinion nationwide. According to the nationwide poll conducted by The Polling Company, 78 percent of voters indicated that a candidate’s position on immigration policy was an important factor in determining their vote. (FAIR Press Release, Nov. 6, 2014) Further, 56 percent of voters expressed support for congressional legislation that would “prevent President Obama from using federal funds to legalize” millions of illegal aliens through executive action. (Id.)