GOP governors attack Obama's immigration order
By STEVE PEOPLES and JILL COLVIN
BOCA RATON, Fla. — The nation's Republican governors on Wednesday lashed out at President Barack Obama's plans to unilaterally protect millions of immigrants from deportation, but clashed over whether their congressional colleagues should threaten a government shutdown in response.
The issue dominated the first full day of the Republican Governors Association annual meeting, where a half-dozen potential presidential candidates addressed an issue that could weigh heavily in the GOP's wide-open presidential primary.
One of the likely candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, threatened to file a lawsuit to block Obama's executive order, which the president was expected to announce Thursday night.
Perry likened the president's move to sticking "a finger in the eye of the American people" and described a lawsuit as "a very real possibility."
Recent Republican White House candidates — Perry among them — have struggled to navigate the immigration debate while facing overwhelming conservative opposition to an immigration overhaul and Hispanic voters' growing influence in national elections. While united in their opposition to Obama's plans, GOP governors on Wednesday offered little clarity on what the party should do instead.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the group's outgoing chairman, blamed Obama for failing to address immigration reform earlier in his presidency, but refused to explain his personal position on the issue. Instead, he urged Congress to avoid a government shutdown to block an executive order on immigration.
"It's incumbent upon everybody in Washington, D.C., to do their jobs. And running the government is their job," Christie said. "All this kind of hysteria about shutdowns to me is just people who can make news."
A few minutes earlier, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested that a government shutdown should be on the table, but put it on Obama's shoulders.
"I don't think the president should shut down the government simply because he wants to break the law," Jindal charged.
The comments came on the first day of the RGA's annual conference, where dozens of governors gathered in a luxury oceanside resort as the group's most ambitious governors jockey for position ahead of the 2016 presidential contest.
While Hillary Rodham Clinton remains the overwhelming Democratic front-runner should she seek the presidency, the prospective Republican field is crowded and without a clear leader. A handful of Senate Republicans may join the 2016 contest, but many donors and party officials would prefer a presidential nominee to emerge from the ranks of the Republican governors, who have executive experience and are not tainted by Congress' low approval ratings.
Governors, governors-elect, senior aides and prominent donors descended upon the Boca Raton Resort & Club on Wednesday. The bright pink complex is a sprawling maze of fountains, manicured gardens, ballrooms and high-end restaurants, complete with its own beach club, marina and golf course.
Like their governors, the GOP's biggest donors are also divided on how the party should navigate the immigration debate. While many raise the economic benefits of an improved immigration system, high-profile Republican donor Foster Friess said that immigration reform is unnecessary so long as the federal government enforces its existing laws.
"This whole issue is basically about a political question rather than what's good for the country," said Friess, who was among the many prominent donors mingling with governors. "Who are these people going to vote for?"
Obama on Thursday will announce steps he will take to shield up to 5 million immigrants illegally in the United States from deportation. The president, in a video released on Facebook, said he would make his announcement from the White House.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggested that his party should pursue a lawsuit to block Obama's plans instead of a government shutdown. He described immigration reform as important, but not as important as the economy, taxes, energy and education, and accused Obama of using the issue as a "cynical ploy" to disrupt Republicans from pursuing other agenda items.
"Come out with me on the road and I'll tell you there aren't a whole lot of people talking about immigration reform," Walker said.
WASHINGTON — In a broad test of his executive powers, President Barack Obama declared Wednesday he will sidestep Congress and order his own federal action on immigration — in measures that could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people illegally in the U.S. and set up one of the most pitched partisan confrontations of his presidency.
Obama declared that Washington has allowed America's immigration problem "to fester for too long."
The president will use an 8 p.m. EST address Thursday to announce his measures and will sign the executive actions during a rally in Las Vegas on Friday. In doing so, Obama will be taking an aggressive stand that he had once insisted was beyond his presidential power.
As many as 5 million people in the country illegally are likely to be protected from deportation and made eligible for work permits under the plan. They would not have a path to citizenship, however, and the actions could be reversed by a new president in two years. Officials said the eligible immigrants would not be entitled to federal benefits — including health care tax credits — under Obama's plan.
The 5 million estimate includes extending deportation protections to parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been in the country for some years. The president also is likely to expand his 2-year-old program that protects young immigrants from deportation. The administration had considered extending the executive action to parents of young immigrants covered under the 2012 Obama directive, but immigration advocates said they did not expect the parents to be included in the final plan.
"What I'm going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem," Obama said in a video on Facebook.
Laying the groundwork for his actions, Obama invited 18 Democratic members of the House and Senate — but no Republicans — to dinner at the White House Wednesday. Among the networks airing his Thursday speech will be Univision, which will interrupt the Latin Grammys to carry his remarks, assuring him a huge Spanish-speaking audience.
Obama is to speak at Las Vegas' Del Sol High School on Friday, a school with a large population of non-English speaking students where Obama unveiled his blueprint for comprehensive immigration legislation in 2013.
Republicans vehemently oppose the president's likely actions but are deeply divided and have spent much of the week intensely debating how to respond. Some conservative members have threatened to pursue a government shutdown and one — two-term Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama — raised the specter of impeachment on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman criticized Obama's planned announcement, noting that the president himself had said in the past that he was not "emperor" and was limited in his ability to act.
"If 'Emperor Obama' ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue — and many others," the spokesman, Michael Steel, said.
A wide-ranging immigration bill passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the Republican-led House. Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday took turns declaring their support for Obama's unilateral action, blaming Republican inaction for forcing Obama to act.
"There's one more chance: Just put the bill on the floor, Speaker Boehner," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a lead author of the bill that passed the Senate. "Pass the bill and we will not even have to debate executive action."
Even Republicans who supported the Senate bill that would have overhauled immigration laws said Obama's go-it-alone approach would backfire. Still, they cautioned their party colleagues not to overreach in their response.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who worked on the Senate legislation, said the executive actions would leave the status of millions of immigrants unresolved and would not address what he called a broken immigration system.
"Our response has to be measured — can't capitulate, can't overreact," he said. "Impeachment or shutting down the entire government would be an unwise move."
Adjustments also are expected to a 2012 program that allowed immigrants under 31 who had arrived before June 2007 to apply for a reprieve from deportation and a work permit. More than 600,000 young immigrants have been shielded from deportation to date under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Removing the upper age limit so that applicants don't have to be under 31 — one option under consideration — would make an additional 200,000 people eligible.
The beneficiaries of Obama's new executive action would be treated in the same manner as those immigrants who were shielded from deportation in his 2012 directive, according to one official who discussed the limits of Obama's action on the condition of anonymity, lacking authority to speak on the record at this point.
Those young immigrants covered by the 2012 action can obtain work permits but are not eligible for food stamps, federal welfare benefits or disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program. They also are ineligible for tax credits under Obama's health care law, though they can buy health coverage at full price on the exchanges created by the law. They may be eligible for public benefits provided by some states.
Some immigrant advocates worried that even though Obama's actions would make millions eligible for work permits, not all would participate out of fear that Republicans or a new president would reverse Obama's actions.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Donna Cassata, and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.