Republicans Fire Their First Immigration Shots—at Each Other 

The GOP is already bitterly divided on the best way to fight Obama’s executive action.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks during the victory party for Texas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz argue that using the appropriation process to defund the president’s immigration move is the only way to keep the actions from going forward.

Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Republicans had a rare, fleeting moment of consensus on immigration when the president announced last month that he would take executive action to defer deportation and give work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Republicans of all stripes—from the big-business-friendly speaker of the House to the Gadsden flag-toting Tea Party darlings in the rank-and-file—all agreed that his move was an unconstitutional overreach and an assault on our constitutional system of checks and balances. In that moment, Republicans called an intra-caucus cease-fire.

That cease-fire is toast. Ten Republicans broke ranks on Thursday to vote against or simply vote “present” on a largely symbolic bill introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho intended to block the president’s executive action on immigration. One Republican member, Arizona’s Rep. Matt Salmon, mocked the bill a few hours before the vote, telling a group of reporters that the House could save time and money by just sending the president a Hallmark card.

The central question is this: Should Republicans try to use the appropriation process to defund the president’s immigration move? Supporters of that strategy—including Sens. Jeff Sessions and Ted Cruz, as well as Salmon and others—argue it’s the only way to keep the president’s action from going forward. Opponents of that strategy tremble at the prospect of replaying last year’s government shutdown.

But the strategy’s supporters have been vocal and unequivocal about their positions. And now they’re going on the offense. Sessions released a statement suggesting that a plan some Republicans had been coalescing around—to pass Rep. Yoho’s “hallmark card” bill and then fund the government without any exception for the president’s immigration move—would break the party’s campaign promises.  

In fact, a few days before the midterm elections, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told reporters on a conference call that the GOP would spare no effort to block the president’s move.

“We will do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen: Defunding, going to court, injunction,” he said, per Breitbart. “You name it. It’s wrong. It’s illegal.”

So Republicans are in a tough spot: The chairman of their party promised that defunding would be on the table if necessary, but now the House Leadership seems thoroughly uninterested in that route. It’s one thing to rally the base in late October, but it’s quite another to follow up on a commitment that could precipitate a second government shutdown.

So would Republicans be breaking their campaign promises if they voted to fund the government without any provision blocking funds for the president’s immigration action?

It depends on who you ask. At a press conference yesterday, Iowa’s Rep. Steve King said that members of Congress who vote to fund the president’s move would be voting to violate the Constitution and, thus, would violate their oaths of office. Cruz warned that members should do “what you promised.”

“And doing what you promised doesn’t mean, as it so often does in Washington, sending a really stern letter and having a meaningless show vote,” he added.

Later I asked Salmon if he thought members who voted for a funding bill that included funding for the president’s move would be breaking their campaign promises. He echoed Cruz’s message that it would be a violation of their oath of office.

“I think that it’s an abdication of your duty to vote for funding for something that you believe is unconstitutional,” he said. “Absolutely. Even for a day.”

There obviously isn’t a consensus in Republican ranks on that. Michigan’s Rep. Candice Miller, who chairs the House Administration Committee, was blunt.

“For anybody to say that if you just don’t vote the way he thinks, that you’re breaking your campaign promise, I think is wrong,” she said.

And Rep. Bill Cassidy who is all but a lock to win the Louisiana Senate race on Dec. 6, was in the same camp as Miller.

“I’m not sure I accept Sen. Sessions’ assessment,” he said.  

Eisenhower was successful in the Battle of the Bulge, Cassidy continued, because he waited to counterattack.

“So there’s a certain strategy that must come in to play,” he concluded. “And so I think that this is a little bit of a chess match, and you have to do your actions with an eye towards completing them in success.”

Off the hill, conservatives are a touch less delicate. Radio host Laura Ingraham, one of the most influential voices opposing comprehensive immigration reform, said on her radio show Thursday that she has started looking for someone to primary Kentucky’s Rep. Hal Rogers. Rogers chairs the House Appropriations Committee and drew enormous ire for saying that defunding the president’s move wouldn’t be possible.

And Erick Erickson, who runs RedState.com, encouraged readers to mail blue balls to Boehner’s district office in Ohio. At about noon on Thursday, he celebrated more than 100 orders to Boehner’s office.

So yes, this could get ugly.