Don’t say “impeach.” You know that’s not happening. I’m asking for countermeasures here that are within the Overton window.
Conn Carroll writes, “If Republicans let Obama get away with this they are essentially repudiating any mandate they received from their own voters Tuesday.” He wants to see some defunding — not of the entire government, which is a nonstarter given that McConnell has ruled out any new shutdowns, but of O’s new immigration measures specifically.
The only thing Republicans can do now is use the power of the purse to constrain Obama’s executive power. They must pass an appropriations bill that specifically denies all funding for issuing work permits and other documents to any illegal alien seeking prosecutorial discretion. Or limit the number of permits issued to something in line with historical norms.
That seems nice and symmetrical. Question for budget wonks, though: Isn’t there some sort of workaround the White House could manage to fund the amnesty regardless, i.e. some sort of slush fund within DHS’s budget that could be used to pay for new obligations at the president’s direction? There’s so much money sloshing around in the executive branch, it’s hard to believe tying O’s hands would be as easy as this. Plus, for McConnell and Boehner, the art of countering executive amnesty is to do it in a way that doesn’t hand Democrats an easy talking point to appeal to Latino voters. To some extent that’s inevitable — any attempt to block amnesty will be spun as “Republicans hate immigrants” — but refusing to pay for O’s amnesty order is as targeted as it gets. I bet both GOP leaders are leery of confronting O that directly on immigration with their eyes already on 2016.
So how about something less direct? Robert Tracinski has an idea:
Mitch McConnell has a big piece of leverage to use against them. Under Harry Reid, Democrats weakened the filibuster and a whole host of other rules that used to give some real power to the Senate minority. Either they couldn’t look forward far enough to project the day when they would lose their majority—or they were counting on Republicans to be magnanimous and restore the old rules. McConnell can always promise that yes, he will restore the old system and make life in the minority a lot less difficult, but only so long as Senate Democrats back him up on a few key issues like this one—which are, after all, merely attempts to protect the constitutional prerogatives of the Senate itself. After all, why bother wrangling about Senate rules if Congress has been made irrelevant?
In other words, McConnell could offer to keep Reid’s new rule that bars filibusters of presidential nominees (except to the Supreme Court) unless Senate Democrats refuse to join him in opposing executive amnesty. There’s an elegance to that. Like Tracinski says, if Obama’s going to step on Congress’s institutional prerogatives by arrogating the power of amnesty to himself, McConnell might as well step on the executive’s prerogatives by refusing an up-or-down vote on Obama’s nominees. If the White House doesn’t like that, hey, they started it. And if the gambit works and some Senate Dems swing around to the GOP’s position in opposing executive amnesty, it’d be a master stroke: Bipartisan opposition to this order is the only way realistically for Boehner and McConnell to defuse the “Republicans hate immigrants” attacks. Just one question: Er, will conservatives go for this? Tracinski’s plan requires McConnell to continue the Reid rule about simple majority approval of O’s nominees if O plays ball on amnesty. What happens if Obama postpones his order indefinitely and then nominates someone terrible to replace Holder as AG? There’ll be no filibuster; all Democrats would need are five Republican votes to flip for confirmation. You know the roll — Murkowski, Collins, Kirk, Graham, etc etc. Five votes isn’t out of the question, especially in a caucus that’s eager to prove to voters before 2016 how “reasonable” they are. How would you feel about that outcome to start the exciting new Republican Congress?
I’m not particularly worried about this scenario because I’m convinced that Obama will issue his amnesty order no matter what threats the GOP makes; his credibility with his base now depends on it. Tracinski, though, thinks O is bluffing on immigration. If he’s right, then yeah, the scenario I just described is plausible. In which case, how about upping the deterrence a bit further? Joel Pollak favors a combination of the Carroll and Tracinski plans:
[McConnell] has only one real power that no one else can take away: the power to bring bills to the floor.
That means McConnell can block any and all of Obama’s appointments, both executive and judicial. And that is what McConnell should threaten to do if Obama attempts to carry out executive amnesty. It is a threat that is directly related to the powers that Obama proposes to abuse, and it is better than threatening to defund the government or even particular agencies, which would have the disadvantage of punishing innocent individuals.
If Obama persists, then defunding is on the table–but it should remain targeted. And it should aim directly at the White House itself, cutting funding for all positions necessary to carrying out the president’s non-security powers, even grounding Air Force One if necessary.
Obama’s taking Congress’s power away so Congress is going to take away some of his power, not only by refusing to let him fill vacancies but by stripping most of his funding for the White House. You don’t have the problem of McConnell following Reid’s rules here, and you don’t have the problem of the GOP angering Latinos by obstructing amnesty directly. This is targeted at Obama himself, the safest political target in America after another big red wave, with little loyalty to the White House left among Democrats in Congress. If they’re going to try something like this, though, they need to start explaining it to the public right now. Democrats will go all out to frame Pollak’s plan as the ultimate example of GOP petulance towards a president they hate (in addition to the immigrants they supposedly hate, of course), proof that Republicans’ first instinct after being handed power is to spitefully take away the president’s toys, not govern. McConnell would need to frame the argument in constitutional and symmetrical terms: It’s Obama who’s encroaching on Congress’s power, not vice versa. This is a separation of powers dispute; immigration is just the battlefield on which it’s being fought. There are plenty of soundbites from constitutional scholars, starting with Jonathan Turley, to back the GOP up on that.
My main reservation about Pollak’s plan is that it seems like a prelude to an immigration deal between Obama and the GOP. O can’t bow to McConnell and rescind his amnesty order just because the Senate refuses to confirm his appointees. He needs to save face. And the only way to do that is to preserve the amnesty through legal means by reaching a deal with GOP leaders to pass a new immigration bill. Whatever bill emerged would be tougher than the Gang of Eight bill (I think), but it won’t be so tough as to undo amnesty entirely. Otherwise Obama won’t agree to it. So they’ll work out some sort of deal and then McConnell will lift his opposition to Obama’s nominees, and we’ll be left with … something on immigration. You trust the GOP leadership to drive a hard bargain on amnesty with 2016 looming, don’t you?