Republican leadership caught between a rock and a hard place on immigration

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Though Republicans will dominate Congress in 2015 and provide a significant counter to President Barack Obama during his last two years in the White House, they must still weather inter-party conflict before the end of the current legislative session and the beginning of GOP dominance.

Republican Party leadership have indicated that though President Barack Obama overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order to expand work and residency eligibility for 5 million undocumented immigrants, a government shutdown will not be tolerated as retaliation. At the same time, Tea Party hardliners and other conservative voices on the Hill have remained adamant about stopping what they see as illegal, unilateral offer of amnesty and have presented themselves as a foil to both Democratic and Republican efforts to fund Obama’s order.

The question that remains is this: How will the Republicans influence immigration enforcement and please their base without using the nuclear option that gave the nation fits a year ago?

House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a potential solution on Tuesday. Boehner’s plan permits Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida to sponsor a House bill which, if passed, would revoke Obama’s authority to change immigration laws. Though the bill is largely symbolic and is not likely to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it might shore up some support from the GOP’s right-leaning contingent, which has been critical of Boehner’s relatively meek action on the issue.

More importantly, however, the plan avoids a shutdown by separating government funds into two separate bills. The first, relatively uncontroversial vote in the House would fund most government agencies through most of 2015. The second would focus specifically on the Deparment of Homeland Security’s immigration programs and would guarantee funding only through part of the year, buying Republicans some time to undermine the finance side of Obama’s executive action.

GOP Speaker John Boehner is also up for re-election in the fall and is not likely to make any politically risky moves, so some limited friction against Obama is expected to please supporters. However, with virtually no support from across the aisle on the budget, he must count every Republican ally he has to secure a GOP victory in the waning days of Democratic control.

Boehner has also faced criticism for an immigration bill he proposed last year which was quickly pulled after conservative lawmakers took strong issue with a legalization component. With another GOP revolt on his hands, the House Speaker also risks appearing weak and unable to control his caucus.

Though Boehner and other top-tier Republicans in favor of the deal stand to benefit from reining in the more wily Republicans in Congress, defunding the DHS might still prove futile. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency in DHS responsible for enforcement of Obama’s provision, operates on a fee basis and might be largely unaffected by budget appropriations from the top down.

Still, inter-party conflict is a threat and regardless of how the executive action is countered, Republican leadership has reason to be wary of a showdown. In a recent CNN/ORC poll released Monday, 50 percent of respondents reported they would blame the GOP for a shutdown, while only 33 percent reported they would blame Obama.

Combined with falling approval ratings for the party and a significant majority of Americans disapproving of the Republican’s budget process-and particularly Tea Party hardline tactics-during the last shutdown, it is not difficult to see why Boehner and other centrist and establishment Republicans wish to avoid further damage. Whether or not they land some blows on Obama’s immigration reform themselves might very well depend on how many they land on each other.