House votes against Obama immigration order

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Dec. 4, 2014.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Dec. 4, 2014. AP

The House of Representatives issued a symbolic rebuke of President Barack Obama’s immigration action Thursday in the first phase of a multi-step Republican plan to avert a government shutdown next week while retaining the party’s ability to fiscally attack Obama’s order.

Split largely along party lines, the House voted 219-197 on a bill authored by tea party conservative Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., challenging Obama’s executive authority to halt the deportations of nearly 4 million people living in the country illegally. Three Democrats voted for the bill, seven Republicans voted against it, and three lawmakers voted “present.” Fifteen House members failed to vote.

“The president thumbed his nose at the American people with his actions on immigration, and the House will make clear today that we are rejecting his unilateral actions,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the vote. “And then the United States Senate should take this bill and pass it.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., firmly stated this week that he has no intention of bringing the bill up in the closing days of the 113th Congress. Obama blasted the House bill during a higher education event, saying it would “force talented young people and productive workers and community leaders to leave our country.”

“The immigration issue is, I recognize, one that generates a lot of passion,” Obama said. “But it does not make sense for us to want to push talent out.”

Later, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the House bill would have the effect of diverting police to track down the children, called Dreamers, who already have been allowed by a previous order to remain in the U.S.

“It’s a little nonsensical for them to be pursuing this course of action, but not inconsistent with their previous strategy,” Earnest said of the House Republicans.

But supporters of the measure maintained that it was needed to rein in Obama’s use of executive authority and to reinforce that it’s Congress, not the White House, that makes law.

Though effectively symbolic, Thursday’s vote was an important part of Boehner’s strategy to push through legislation to avert a government shutdown and keep the federal government funded beyond Dec. 11.

He’s banking that the vote will soothe Republicans angry over Obama’s immigration action enough that they won’t try to use an upcoming bill to keep the government funded through Sept. 30, 2015, as leverage and trigger a shutdown.

“We think this is the most practical way to fight the president’s action,” Boehner told reporters before the vote. “And, frankly, we listen to our members, and we listen to some members who are, frankly, griping the most. This was their idea of how to proceed.”

As part of Boehner’s plan, the House plans to vote next week on a measure to fund federal programs and agencies through fiscal 2015 except for those that would spend money to execute Obama’s immigration order. The bill would only fund the Department of Homeland Security through the spring.

But several Republicans have objected to Boehner’s plan, claiming it removes the one big hammer – the congressional power of the purse – to limit the impact of Obama’s executive action. Several outside conservative groups are urging lawmakers to vote against the government funding measure next week.

“The president is still pushing the envelope,” said Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who declined to say what he’ll do next week because he’s focused on his election against incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., this weekend. “Would it be better to be able to further limit his actions? Absolutely.”

But some congressional Republicans worry that targeting the Homeland Security Department’s funding could have a negative impact on the country’s safety.

“I think the agencies that implement the executive order shouldn’t get any funding, I’m not sure if that’s the entire Department of Homeland Security,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “The Department of Homeland Security has more than one job: It’s called Homeland Security, it’s not called the Office of Immigration. I think it would be shortsighted for us to deny funding to an agency that’s become one of the front-line defenders of the homeland.”

Thursday’s House debate occurred after a coalition of 17 states filed suit against the Obama administration, saying it acted illegally when it issued the executive immigration action. North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Idaho, Mississippi and Utah were among the 17 states.

“The president is abdicating his responsibility to faithfully enforce laws that were duly enacted by Congress and attempting to rewrite immigration laws, which he has no authority to do,” said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s governor-elect.