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Republican ire at Obama immigration action

November 21, 2014

US House Speaker John Boehner has accused Barack Obama of "damaging the presidency itself" with his unilateral action on immigration. The changes would ease the threat of deportation for almost 5 million US residents.

USA - Präsident Obama trifft sich mit führenden Kongress-Angehörigen
Image: Reuters

John Boehner on Friday said that his Republican colleagues in Congress intended to fight Barack Obama's changes to US immigration rules, designed to protect nearly five million US residents currently threatened by deportation under existing laws.

Obama introduced the move by executive action, the process by which a US president can bypass the legislature altogether and introduce certain policies, saying that he did so because of Congress' inability to broker a deal. Boehner rejected this, however, saying that it was Obama who had stood in the way of a compromise in the Republican-controlled chamber.

"All year long I have warned the president that by … threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together," Boehner told reporters. "With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of … bipartisan reform that he claims to seek."

By executive action

Boehner said that Obama was "damaging the presidency itself" by going it alone, a reference to critics who say that the president does not have the authority to introduce this kind of law unilaterally. Obama himself had addressed these criticisms on Thursday night, when explaining his decision in a televised address to the nation:

"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill," Obama said.

Obama stellt Pläne zur Einwanderung vor
The changes would benefit undocumented US migrants who have already spent at least a decade in the countryImage: Reuters/Huffaker

Boehner countered at a news conference on Friday, telling journalists: "I will say to you, the House will, in fact, act. We will listen to the American people, we will work with our members and we will work to protect the constitution of the United States."

Midterms over, partisan politics ongoing

Republicans now control both chambers of Congress, having claimed a majority in the upper house, the Senate, at midterm elections earlier this month. But even when Obama's Democrats had a slender grip on the Senate and a smaller disadvantage in the lower House of Representatives, passing legislation in the fiercely partisan two-party system had proved highly challenging. Last year, an unresolved dispute over government spending led to a near-total shutdown of US Federal Government facilities.

Precisely how Congress could move to block Obama's order, currently due to be implemented without a vote or consultation in parliament, is not clear. Any legislative solution the lawmakers could agree on could still be vetoed on arrival at the president's desk. One solution mooted by US news agency AP was including language designed to stop the changes into upcoming spending bills setting the 2015 budget. This step, if taken, could set up yet another "government shutdown," if Washington again fails to agree on a budget ready for its new fiscal year.

The immigration reforms from Obama address the roughly 11 million people currently living in the US illegally. The new laws would compel law enforcement agencies to focus all their deportation efforts on tracking down either serious criminals or relatively recent arrivals in the US. The reform specifically assigns a low priority to long-term residents and affects almost five million people.

msh/cb (AP, Reuters)