Boehner warns Obama not to play with amnesty fire

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) compared President Obama’s executive-order amnesty threats to a small child playing with matches in a press conference on Thursday.  “I’ve made clear to the president that if he acts unilaterally on his own outside of his authority, he will poison the well and there will be no chance for immigration reform moving in this Congress,??? the Speaker declared.  ???When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went with a different metaphor.  “It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull,” he

The President used his post-election press conference to essentially declare the midterm Republican tsunami irrelevant, command the victors to pass the kind of immigration reform Obama wants, and threaten to issue millions of amnesties to illegal aliens if the new Republican Congress doesn’t do it for him.  Conservatives who worry that the GOP leadership not-so-secretly wants to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes amnesty will be heartened to see Boehner pushing back against Obama’s threats.

For what it’s worth – and longtime critics of the Republican leadership will say its value should be measured in coins, not bills – Boehner’s pugnacious comments left considerably less wiggle room than Obama’s ominous, but somewhat vague, threat to use executive orders.  On the other hand, the Speaker said he still wants to find “common ground” on immigration reform, as did Obama.  There is still reason to worry about which side of the Rio Grande that common ground will be located on.

Boehner also vowed to repeal ObamaCare in the same press conference, so for the moment, the leadership appears eager to capitalize on the astonishing Republican victory in the midterms, assure the electorate Republicans hear them far more clearly than the semi-delusional President does, and reassure conservatives that working for a Republican Congress was not wasted effort.  Nothing would bring their victory lap to a crashing halt faster than a lousy immigration-reform deal.  Voters were at least as clear about their antipathy to amnesty as they were about their dislike for ObamaCare.  It cannot have escaped the GOP leadership’s notice that supporters of the late, unlamented “Gang of Eight” deal – which Obama touted this week as a model of bipartisan compromise – didn’t do so well in the midterm elections.

Conservatives are already irked at the leadership for making so many pre-emptive concessions to Obama on budget matters in the lame-duck session.  The only way these grumbles will subside is if Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can persuade Republican voters they’re keeping the political powder dry for important action in the new Congress.  There is no way to speak persuasively about this plan; they have to do some pretty spectacular things once the new session begins.  It would be fair to say that few sessions have begun with higher expectations.  That’s the natural consequence of a historic victory.

Democrats certainly understand that – they’re huddled right now, talking about strategies to make the Republican Congress look ineffectual and demoralize their voters to prepare the battlefield for 2016, when the Democrats have structural advantages for retaking the Senate, and a presidential contest looms.  Let’s face it: the list of things Democrats and their media can browbeat and bamboozle Republicans into doing that would disgust and infuriate their voters is fairly obvious, and immigration reform tops the list.  Never forget that few issues present a wider gulf between what the broad American public wants, and what the Beltway-bubbled Ruling Class desires.  Immigration reform was the top story in Washington during periods when it wasn’t even in the top-ten list of issues the voters cared about.  It’s only high on their list now because Obama’s manufactured border crisis swept tens of thousands of aliens into the country, prompting the public to demand more border security, and less outright lunacy from the immigration system.

Of course the out-of-touch social engineer in the White House thinks the public is calling for a 500 percent increase in the policies that caused the last border crisis.  The prospect of a “reform” that would forever change the American electorate is nearly irresistible.  Obama and his strategists will say the long-term gains are worth any drubbings Democrats might take in the next election or two, while their new Big Government-friendly electorate is delivered.  Democrats who remember the President telling them the same thing with respect to ObamaCare might not be easily convinced this time.  A great deal of their structural advantage in 2016 will disappear if safe seats are put in play by voter outrage over an amnesty deal.

The obvious play for Republicans is to pass a security-only reform bill and dare Obama to veto it.  That’s what the public wants, and they’re going to respond angrily if Obama flips them another bird and starts babbling about the need to give “dreamers” what they want as part of a security package deal.  The public knows very well that when border security is “packaged” with anything else, security always goes on backorder, while everything the American people don’t want is delivered immediately.  The optics of Obama vetoing a border security bill would be horrendous enough to have Democrats up for re-election in ’16 huddled in their cloakroom, weeping in terror.  Let me make this blunt for any Republicans who don’t get it: the media thinks a sweeping deal that includes goodies for the amnesty lobby is the right thing to do, and will sneer at security-only legislation as an expression of xenophobia, but the American people don’t see it that way.  They might be willing to discuss measures for dealing with the illegal population already in the country, but only after they are reassured the illegal immigration problem isn’t going to get any worse.  This has always been the case, but it’s an especially strong attitude after this year’s border crisis, coupled with a shrunken-workforce economy that leads American citizens to quite reasonably ask why importing even more workers is good idea.

Meanwhile, what can Republicans do to neutralize Obama’s executive-order threat?  The Daily Signal relates conversations with conservative Senate staffers who warn that the leadership’s eagerness to make lame-duck budget concessions to the President might neutralize their ability to defund amnesty if Obama orders it:

The White House may wait until after a spending bill clears Congress to announce changes in immigration policy. That???s why conservatives believe that agreeing to a long-term funding measure ??? one that lasts until Oct. 1 of next year ??? would lock into place funding for Obama???s program.

???I don???t think he will do this right after the election,??? a third Senate aide said of Obama. ???Because he knows we will make it an issue in the lame duck, and we have the momentum. There???s no reason to pass a long-term bill with a bunch of senators who won???t be there [after January].???

Conservatives prefer short-term funding, probably through February, so they can come back to the spending fight early next year. Then, in full control of the process, they could begin withholding funding the president would need to implement  immigration changes made without Congress.

So, for example, when an appropriations bill for an individual agency such as the Department of Homeland Security goes through Congress, lawmakers would provide no funds for an activity such as issuance of a specific number of work permits.

???I would be shocked if there???s anything but a short-term [bill], a fourth conservative Senate staffer said. ???We can be very precise with it [in deciding what and how to defund immigration-related activities]. Ultimately, I don???t think McConnell will endorse a moderate view on immigration.???

I’m not so sure about that – the leadership seems awfully eager to throw away the power of the purse, to defuse Democrat talking points about another government shutdown.  That would be foolish for a number of reasons, including the rather obvious fact that even the last, very messy shutdown fight didn’t hurt Republicans in the midterm elections – a fact even left-wing analysts are conceding, with considerable astonishment – and the next showdown won’t feature Harry Reid throwing the government-shutdown switch while blaming Republicans for doing it.  Make Obama explain to the American people that he, and he alone will shut the government down to protect amnesty for illegal aliens.

Another idea mentioned in the Daily Signal article is legislation forbidding the President to expand amnesty programs such as his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, tied into must-pass spending bills.  Obama would predictably denounce such measures as “poison pills” and veto the bills… causing vulnerable Democrats to wince in agony as his veto pen scratched across the paper.  There’s a lot Republicans can do to make Obama’s drive for amnesty incredibly painful for his Party, and that would increase pressure from Democrat leaders on Obama to back down before he ruins their chances in the next election.

There are also Senate Republicans who want a direct Constitutional challenge to amnesty orders Obama might issue.  Six Senators – including Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and David Vitter of Louisiana – wrote a letter to outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, reminding him “the Supreme Court has recognized that ‘over no conceivable subject is the power of Congress more complete’ than its power over immigration,” emphasizing that it is Reid’s duty to defend the Constitution against executive overreach, and promising to mount that defense themselves if Reid is incapable of handling it.

Given the level of Obama’s unpopularity after years of boasting about his “pen and phone,” I suspect the American people would be strongly on Republicans’ side during that battle.  Democrats have been pushing hard for the imperial Presidency during Obama’s reign, arguing that Congress should rubber-stamp everything the supreme executive wants, and give the voters one chance every four years to cash the President out if they don’t like where he’s taking the country.  Voters decisively rejected that appeal in the midterm elections.

After ages of Democrat bleating about Republican “gridlock,” they gave the Republicans incredible victories in both the Senate and the House.  Remember how Democrats and liberal pundits confidently predicted the public would punish those gridlocking obstructionists in the House by taking away Republican seats, and maybe even giving control of the chamber back to the Democrats?  Nope.  Instead, they bolstered the Republican majority beyond even the most optimistic pre-election predictions, to levels not seen in almost a hundred years.  So yes, I do believe the American people would support Cruz and his colleagues if Obama uses executive orders to provoke a fight over the Constitutional separation of powers… especially if it’s on an issue like amnesty, which the electorate vigorously opposes.

This is no time to go wobbly, Republicans.  Don’t feed the Lame Duck anything you might need to sustain your momentum in the next session  Remember, you’re playing with fire, too.