President Barack Obama’s promise of a year-end unilateral amnesty for illegal immigrants has highlighted an immigration split among GOP senators: whether to fight the president’s amnesty, or fight for a say on how the president proceeds. The most-recent signs of the long-running disagreement comes just weeks before the critical November election.
Obama’s promise was described merely as a cynical legal dodge by the GOP’s taciturn leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
But populist Sen. Jeff Sessions slammed Obama’s pending edict as an elitist attack on Americans’ wages and jobs.
By giving “work permits to millions of illegal immigrants… [Obama] will wipe away American workers’ lawful immigration protections [and] illegal workers will be instantly allowed to take precious jobs directly from struggling Americans in every occupation,” said Sessions’s Sept. 6 response.
Obama and the Democrats “believe our nation’s immigration policy should be decided by a handful of the world’s most elite CEOs and most powerful open borders lobbyists… The remedy now is for the American voter to send a message that will thunder through the halls of Congress,” he said.
“Though President Obama and his Senate Democrats refuse to believe so, the American citizen is still in charge of this government and this country,” Sessions declared.
Sessions’ passionate pitch, however, is opposed by many donors vital to the GOP and by many corporate lobbyists. In general, companies back Obama’s immigration-boosting policies because they want more cheap workers and more customers.
But Sessions’ populist strategy is backed by several other senators, and many polls show that swing-voters, many Hispanics, working Americans, GOP supporters, plus much of the Democratic Party’s base, lopsidedly oppose Obama’s planned amnesty.
McConnell’s response was more limited: “The president isn’t saying he’ll follow the law — he’s just saying he’ll go around the law once it’s too late for Americans to hold his party accountable in the November elections,” McConnell said in a Sept. 6 statement.
“He must work with Congress in a transparent, accountable way — not rewrite the laws on his own,” said McConnell, without suggesting any GOP counter-moves.
In June 2013, McConnell opposed the Obama backed amnesty and guest-worker bill, which would have doubled the annual inflow of foreign workers to almost match the four million Americans who turn 18 each year.
However, McConnell did not rally GOP opposition to the bill, which opponents say would have raised unemployment, cut wages and shifted more of the nation’s annual income to wealthy people.
The Republican National Committee — which relies heavily on corporate donors — also released a tepid statement.
“It’s sad, but not surprising, that President Obama continues to play politics with such a serious and important issue… Immigration reform will continue to be the president’s biggest failure as long as he keeps playing politics and refuses to work with Republicans,” read a statement from Republican National Committee spokeswoman Ruth Guerra.
Other GOP senators issued similar low-temperature “rule of law” responses.
A unilateral amnesty “goes against the constitution and the rule of law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, who will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if the GOP wins a Senate majority in November. “He should work with Congress on legislation that makes a difference and can pass both the House and the Senate.”
“He’ll probably go ahead and do it after the election is held, and someday the courts likely will say that he acted unconstitutionally,” Grassley said, without suggesting any response.
Several Senate GOP leaders did not post public responses. These leaders included Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and South Dakota’s Sen. John Thune.
However, the campaign committee for Sen. Jerry Moran, the chairman for the committee charged with helping the GOP win Senate elections, issued a relatively tough statement: “By conspiring to subvert the legal process through executive amnesty for millions, President Obama and Democrats in the Senate just gave voters every reason to vote against them this fall,” said the press statement.
“Threats of unpopular executive fiats sixty days out from an election were already toxic for Democratic senators – the promise that they’ll occur after Election Day only will serve to anger their constituents more and elect a new Senate who will stand up to the president,” read the statement.
“The only thing this announcement changes is that Senators [facing elections this year] like Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Pryor, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich and Mary Landrieu will have President Obama’s executive amnesty threats hanging over their campaigns like a storm cloud for the next sixty-days,” it said.
A committee spokesman has endorsed a populist wages-and-jobs criticism of the Democrats’ immigration records.
Several would-be GOP senators, including Scott Brown in New Hampshire, Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas and Terry Lynn Land in Michigan, are using the emotional immigration issue to compete against their better-funded, better-known, media-favored and skillfully managed Democratic rivals.
Sessions’ pro-American pitch also has been joined by other populist senators, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who have called for more public pressure on Obama and the Democrats.
“It is more important than ever for the Senate to debate and vote on this issue before [the election because] the American people have a right to know where their representatives stand,” Sessions said.
On Aug. 1, almost the entire GOP House caucus passed two bills that would limit Obama’s ability to offer work-permits to illegal immigrants. The bill was pushed through by House conservatives, after they blocked a leadership-drafted bill that would have relaxed border enforcement rules.
The Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, has the power to schedule a vote on the House-passed bill.
Sessions, Lee, Sen. Rand Paul and several other GOP senators have called on Reid and other Democratic senators to schedule and pass the House bill through the Senate before the midterm election.
But they’ve got little chance of persuading Reid to schedule a vote, so they’re using the issue to spur GOP support in the midterm election.
“There must be no confusion on this point: not one Senate Democrat has supported the House bill to stop this executive action and demanded that Leader Reid bring it to a vote,” Sessions said.
“Every Senate Democrat is therefore the president’s direct partner in this lawless scheme.”