Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.
That’s not the answer Tea Party activists and other members of the GOP base want to hear. The idea that the ability of Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders to restrain the president is limited, even now that the Senate is in their hands, seem inexplicable to many who believe that the only thing lacking in the Republican caucus is the will to take on Obama. But the more you map out the possible scenarios facing Republicans seeking a legislative fix to the president’s executive orders, not even a shutdown of DHS will halt the amnesty project. If that is true, and unfortunately it is, then at some point the GOP will have to concede at least temporary defeat and move on to other issues even if that will leave at least part of the base damning them as RINO weaklings.
The congressional math on the immigration tangle isn’t hard to figure out. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would probably like to pass the House bill, he may not have the votes to prevent a filibuster by Democrats seeking to defend the president’s prerogatives even if he could count on all 54 Republicans to vote with him, which he can’t. Even if he could get cloture and pass the bill, neither McConnell nor Boehner can muster the supermajorities needed to override such a veto. At that point, the only alternatives involve actions that will lead the GOP into a government shutdown scenario that will only hurt them and help Obama. Even worse, since the agencies that will administer the president’s amnesty plans run on fees collected from the illegals and other immigrants, even that wouldn’t stop the orders from being carried out.
This is frustrating for Republicans and not just because it will leave some conservatives wondering what the point was of electing GOP majorities if they can’t get their way on an issue that hinges on protecting the regular constitutional order by which the legislature passes laws that the executive branch must then enforce.
The strength of the Republican position is that it is defensible regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the president’s policy goals. For a president to simply order a government agency to stop enforcing legally binding laws sets a dangerous precedent. So, too, does the spectacle of a president unilaterally declaring his right to make as well as enforce laws simply because Congress didn’t do as he asked.
But even if you think the broken immigration system must be reformed and a solution found for the 12 million illegals already here and who are unlikely to be all deported, the prospect of Homeland Security simply stopping enforcement is dismaying. Though many of those threatened with deportation are sympathetic, such as the illegals profiled today by the New York Times, the idea that laws can be ignored with impunity, either by immigrants or the president, undermines the notion that we are a nation of laws not men.
This is a battle worth fighting. But it must be acknowledged that picking fights, even righteous ones, that you can’t win isn’t smart.
To those who ask what was the point of electing a Republican Senate if Obama is to get his way, the only answer is that if you are going to eventually reverse the president’s orders, it will have to include electing a president as well as GOP congressional majorities. Only a Republican president, elected in part by the outrage many Americans will feel about their laws being trashed, can roll back the damage Obama is doing to the fabric of our democracy.
The groundwork for that reversal of fortune will also have to involve a Republican Congress behaving sensibly and showing that the party can govern constructively while seeking wherever possible to push back against Obama’s imperial instincts. That will not satisfy those who declare that the republic won’t survive another two years of the Obama presidency. But policy based on apocalyptic predictions is neither a sober party platform nor a strategy for victory. Republicans have made their statement about immigration. Once their gambit fails, like it or not, they will have to move on and prepare the groundwork for the defeat of Hillary Clinton.