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The top Democrat in the Senate is circling the wagons around President Obama in anticipation of a fierce partisan battle over immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Obama could use his executive power to change immigration policies as soon as this week. [UPDATE: Obama will announce a series of immigration actions on Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. ET.]

"I’m saying to the president, 'Mr. President, do it now,'” the Nevada senator said Monday in an interview with Univision, the country's largest Spanish-language network and a parent company of Fusion.

Reid said that Obama has no choice but to act alone because Republicans in the House blocked a bipartisan immigration bill. The Senate leader defended the legality of the anticipated actions saying that previous Republican presidents have used their executive power to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S.


"Why would this be such an issue with the Republicans? They're looking for an excuse," he said. "An excuse not to help people who are so deserving. This has been going on for a long, long time."

Reid is essentially telling Hispanics he fully supports Obama as he moves ahead on immigration. He had previously asked the White House to delay the executive actions until Congress passed a bill to fund the government through next year, even though immigrant-rights advocates have called on the president to act now.

But this week, Reid and other top Democrats in the Senate signed a letter to the president urging him to act.


“He knows I have his back," Reid said of Obama.

Republicans in Congress have said Obama would be abusing his power if he acts alone and have vowed to stop the immigration changes from taking effect. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that Obama's immigration orders would "poison the well" on major pieces of business before Congress.

There's also a danger of centrist Democrats breaking ranks and siding with Republicans against Obama's plans. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said last weekend she is "not crazy" about the idea of the president acting alone on immigration. But she said Republicans in the House should vote on a bill.


Despite having virtually no chance of success, Reid said he would continue to try pass an immigration bill through Congress that would enact permanent policy changes.

"I’m going to do everything that I can to make that a reality,” he said.

Update, Nov. 20, 2 p.m.: This post was updated with information about the president's immigration announcement.


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.