Conservatives hoping to block President Obama's executive action on immigration will likely have to wait until next year to make their goal-line stand.
While some Republican hawks are calling for immediate action, GOP leaders are urging the party to wait until they have stronger numbers in next year's Congress to make their fight. By doing so, they'll also avoid a government shutdown before Christmas.
Party leaders say they will have more leverage to undo Obama's immigration action in 2015, when the Republicans controls both the House and Senate.
But not everyone wants to wait until then. Immigration hardliners, such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) are pushing to defund Obama's action. Government funding is set to run out on Dec. 11, and if lawmakers can't reach a deal, a shutdown would occur.
Now GOP leaders are trying to appease conservatives within their ranks while avoiding a shutdown by passing a mostly symbolic House bill to rebuke the president's action on immigration. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), offered a chance for Republicans to vent their anger at Obama, but stands no chance of passing the Senate and the president has threatened to veto it.
House Republican leaders' plan survived an early test on Thursday, when lawmakers voted 219-197 to pass Yoho's bill. Three Republicans voted present, and seven others voted against the legislation.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has sway among a cadre of House conservatives, said Wednesday that a symbolic bill is nothing more than a "meaningless show vote." But Cruz's objections were not enough to sink the proposal.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) authored a bill that rejects President Obama's executive action on immigration. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.
Leaders are hopeful that Thursday's vote offered conservatives enough relief to pass a funding package to stave off a shutdown next week. Several influential conservatives have criticized the plan because it does not block funding for Obama's immigration action.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday he expects the spending bill to receive bipartisan support. Boehner dismissed complaints about his strategy, saying he listened to members "who were griping the most."
"This was their idea on how to proceed," he told reporters.
Republicans say there is little they can do to stop Obama's immigration action, especially while Congress remains under divided control.
"There's not going to be a government shutdown," Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said during an interview on SiriusXM radio. "The president has been way out of line with his executive amnesty, [but] shutting down the government is not the way to respond."
Boehner said his party will be in a "stronger position" to fight the program next year, but even then there are "limited options in terms of how we can deal with this."
The forthcoming spending plan will provide funding for the government through next September, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration law. That agency would only receive money through February.
Putting Homeland Security on a short leash could allow a Republican Congress to attempt to strip funding for Obama's action early next year. But Boehner would not commit to waging a shutdown fight over the agency in 2015. Instead he said there are "a lot of options on the table" to fight the deportation relief program.
Conservatives may ramp up pressure on Boehner for a spending fight next year if they don't get their wish to have one now. But King expressed concern that waiting until next year would ultimately be fruitless.
“How do you vote in December to fund a lawless, unconstitutional act and then come back in January, February, or March, and decide, well, now I'm going to oppose it because it's unconstitutional?” King told reporters on Wednesday.
Boehner's strategy may have avoided a blowout fight on immigration for now, but it still comes at a cost. Yoho's bill would prevent the president from using his executive authority to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. That opens Republicans up to attack that they are too harsh on immigrants.
"What we are sending to the floor of the United States Congress is yet another symbolic and superficial bill supporting the fantasy that every single undocumented immigrant should be deported," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday evening.
Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership, applauded Boehner for not being pulled into a damaging shutdown fight over immigration. But he said it's incumbent on the GOP to come up with an alternative to Obama's plan that addresses problems with the nation's immigration laws, including the undocumented population.
“I think it’s understandable they want to vent, but they can’t just focus these next two years on venting and complaining," said Aguilar, a prominent Republican proponent of immigration reform. "They have to lead.”
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.