Obama Maps Out Path Around Congress on U.S. Border Crisis

President Barack Obama called his $3.7 billion immigration funding request a “test case” for Republicans who say he’s abused his power, setting the stage to act without Congress.

Now, Republicans are testing him.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) yesterday called Obama’s plan “too much,” and a Republican aide said it’s not clear when or if the House will act on the request to care for, process and, in some cases, deport Central American children who streamed into Texas.

The child migrant crisis is coming to a head as three of the wealthiest men in the world -- Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson and Warren E. Buffett -- scolded the House for not passing Obama’s larger revamp of immigration laws, and Obama, in a don’t-make-me-do-it tone, is warning he’ll go it alone.

“Don’t wait for me to take executive actions when you have the capacity right now to go ahead and get something done,” Obama said July 9 during a trip to Texas.

While Congress would share in the political risk by approving the emergency request that Obama sent to Capitol Hill earlier this week, the president already had signaled his intention to go around lawmakers to put in place rules designed to allow millions of undocumented workers to remain in the country without fear of prosecution.

Immigration activists say the Republican response to his request for border money strengthens his case for selling executive actions to the American public.

‘Emergency’ Designation

“If Congress fails to act like they have failed to act on immigration reform, it’s going to be up to the president to prioritize the use of resources in a way that helps fix the broken system,” said Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington advocacy group closely aligned with the Obama administration.

Republicans say that the White House can accomplish much of what it wants through the normal budgeting process without using an “emergency” designation that would increase the deficit. Some Republicans say that Obama wants to keep the children in the U.S. for an extended period of time.

House Speaker John Boehner criticized Obama for overreaching last month, when the president announced he had asked administration officials to compile recommendations on executive actions he can take in the absence of House action on a Senate-passed bill that would enhance border security, rewrite rules for temporary workers and provide legal status for most undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

Going ‘Alone’

“The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system,” said Boehner, an Ohio Republican. “It is sad and disappointing that -– faced with this challenge -– President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems.”

Obama promised that by the end of this summer he would undertake “a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.”

Several White House officials declined to comment on whether the Republican response to Obama’s emergency funding request would strengthen his case for taking executive action to address the current crisis or broader immigration matters.

Republicans and Democrats alike say the president is serious about wanting money, not just a political cudgel. They are also in agreement that there is an urgent need for action on the border.

‘Humanitarian Crisis’

“We have a true humanitarian crisis,” Boehner said July 10. “Our priorities are clear: Take care of these children, return them safely home, to their home countries, to their families, and secure the border.”

White House officials say Republicans are making excuses for not moving quickly.

“We would like to see Republicans back up their rhetoric with the kind of urgent action that this situation merits,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a press briefing yesterday.

There are proposals coming from the Republican side of Washington’s partisan divide. GOP Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, has proposed repealing a 2008 law, enacted when George W. Bush was president, that requires children who immigrated illegally to the United States from Latin American countries other than Mexico to get a hearing with an administrative law judge before they are deported.

Obama had asked Congress for the power to “fast track” deportations in a letter sent before he requested the supplemental funding package. Some Democrats object to giving him that power, and the funding request was silent on the matter.

Losing Democrats

The president is losing some fellow Democrats who simply don’t want to give him the money. Representative John Barrow, a Democrat who hails from a particularly competitive Georgia district, said yesterday that he opposes the president’s supplemental spending request.

“The president’s request spends money on unnecessary programs that we can’t afford and does nothing to address the actual problem,” Barrow said in a statement. “I can’t support that.”

The business community, which has long advocated for new immigration laws that would take advantage of skilled and unskilled workers from other countries, is turning up pressure on House Republicans to pass the Senate overhaul.

Buffett, Adelson and Gates wrote an op-ed in the New York Times July 10 calling on the 535 members of Congress to do a better job of compromising on behalf of the people they represent.

Republicans have said the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an immigration-tinged Virginia Republican primary last month signaled the death of a major revamp of immigration laws before the congressional elections in November.

That pronouncement prompted Obama to say he would act without Congress.

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