Memo to GOP on Obama's executive order on immigration: Resist the bait

Any move to defund Obama's executive order will fail in the Senate or produce a government shutdown that will be taken as a sign that Republicans can't govern. So, file a lawsuit, be smart, and win in 2016.

Susan Walsh/AP
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who will lead a new GOP Senate majority in the 114th Congress, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.

When the president issues his executive order granting temporary amnesty to up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, Republicans are going to be very unhappy.

The big question is: What do they do about it?

Conservatives want to have an early showdown with the president, using the power of the purse.

That’s why they are pushing House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to agree to only a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government until March of next year.

Presumably, when next March rolls around, they want to redraft another longer-term CR to include language that either defunds the president’s executive order on so-called “amnesty” or directs that he reverse that order.

These same conservatives assume that the president will either agree to these demands or that Republicans can sustain and win a long government shut down on the issue.

Of course, they also assume that such a spending bill, that includes those demands of the president, will pass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for blocking a filibuster.

I think the conservatives are wrong on every front.

The president is not going to back down on this fight. Why should he? He’s not running again, and if the Republicans want to destroy their own brand, what does he care?

Second, they think they can sustain a shutdown over the long haul. After all, there was no lasting damage done to the GOP brand during the last shutdown, as evidenced by the election results last Tuesday. At least, that’s what they say.

But conservatives would be wrong to assume that the GOP brand has completely recovered from the shutdown. The approval rating for Republicans is still in the low 30’s, according to a Washington Post poll, a number that hasn’t moved much since October 2013.

And if you look at those election results carefully, you will find that Republicans did much better among Hispanic voters than anybody suspected.  Republicans did better mostly because the president broke his word to them on his executive order plans before the election. They were sick and tired of being lied to by a president who would rather play politics than do what they perceive to be the right thing.

I don’t know how we attract the same number of Hispanic voters if we have a sustained government shutdown fight over the president’s decision to allow more Hispanics to stay in the country.

Third, there is no way that Democrats will allow an appropriations bill that reverses the president’s executive order to pass the Senate. That means at the first opportunity that Republicans have to show they can govern, they will be unable to produce a bill that will keep the government open.

Sure, they will try to blame the Democrats for the shutdown, but when has that ever worked for a congressional majority?

Instead of connecting the president’s executive order with fiscal issues, they should file a lawsuit.

If the president’s executive order is truly illegal (as Sen. Ted Cruz says), then let the courts sort it out.

If it is not illegal, then pass an immigration reform bill that secures the border, kicks criminal aliens out of the country, makes it harder for businesses to hire illegal immigrants, increases visas and work permits, and makes the undocumented pay taxes. And while they are at, make it impossible for those who are here illegally to get access to Obamacare.

I think it is supremely silly for conservatives to push to have a manufactured fiscal crisis early next year.

Instead of reacting emotionally, the newly ascendant congressional majorities should act with dispassion, with some strategic thought, and with their eyes on the ultimate prize, which, of course, is the White House.

They won't win the White House by driving down the GOP brand and by alienating every Hispanic voter in the country.

They can win by being smart.

They should pursue regular order, they should hold the president’s feet to the fire through smart oversight, and they should avoid creating crises that either shut the government down or otherwise risk the full faith and credit of the United States.

They should be good stewards of taxpayer money and they should practice good government.

President Obama is trying to bait the Republicans into doing something stupid. Republicans should resist the bait.

John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at

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