South Carolina Republicans cried foul about President Barack Obama’s decision to act on immigration, calling it an overreaching act that misreads this year’s midterm election results.
After years of delays and partisan debate, Obama announced on Thursday sweeping changes to immigration policy, bypassing Congress altogether by signing an executive order.
South Carolina Republican representatives waiting to hear of the specifics of the action on Thursday were not happy. They echoed comments from other members of their party – a party emboldened by its considerable midterm wins.
“Agree or disagree with the content of whatever the president does tonight, you should be against him acting in this fashion,” said Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney on Thursday morning, adding, “It’s a wrong way to govern a country and a wrong way to deal with very important issues.”
Mulvaney said more executive orders were not “the message” of this year’s election, which saw the Republican Party take control of the Senate and expand their majority in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Lindsey Graham also said in a statement that he opposes Obama's approach.
“I will try to defund the effort for him to go it alone," said the Seneca Republican. "We will challenge him in court."
Republican Rep. Joe Wilson said before Obama’s speech that the midterms showed “a historic rejection” of Obama’s policies. Moving forward with an executive order on immigration, he said, was a disconnect and “just wrong.”
“The president is circumventing the legislative process,” Wilson said. “If he can do that on this, what else could he think that he may be able to do?”
Both parties have long struggled for a strategy to deal with an estimated 11 million immigrants without legal status in the United States.
There were about 95,000 unauthorized immigrants living in South Carolina in 2012, according to Pew Research’s Hispanic Trends Project. Neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina rank in the top 10 nationally among states with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations.
In South Carolina, unauthorized immigrants comprise 2 percent of the state population and 3 percent of the state workforce, according to the data. Those rates are relatively low compared to the national averages and rates in Georgia and North Carolina.
In anticipation of Obama’s announcement, Republican Rep. Mark Sanford called the move a sour start to the next two years of divided government between a fully Republican Congress and a Democratic administration.
“(Obama’s) picked the issue that’s most divisive between Republicans and Democrats in Washington and said: ‘Let me take unilateral action on that,’” Sanford said.
“It doesn’t exactly signal an era of cooperation to work together,” he added.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the only Democratic member in the South Carolina congressional delegation, said Thursday afternoon that he supported Obama’s action “very enthusiastically.”
Clyburn, who serves as House assistant Democratic leader, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, said he has been urging Obama to use executive action if necessary.
“We’ve got a Congress, or at least Republicans in the Congress, who have made it very clear that they don’t plan to allow this president to do anything if they can help it,” Clyburn said.
When asked about the potential of further harming an already tense relationship between House Republicans and Democrats, Clyburn said, “It can’t hurt the relationship any more than it is.”
“We didn’t come here to love Republicans, we came here to get something done for our constituents,” he said.
Mulvaney said Republicans should have a chance to pass changes to immigration policy.
“I can’t imagine he would not give the new Congress a chance to do that,” he added.