White House Goes on Offense After Immigration Vote

White House Goes on Offense After Immigration Vote

By Alexis Simendinger - December 4, 2014

A House bill rebuking President Obama for his executive action on immigration has no future in the current Senate and will never reach the Oval Office, but that wasn’t apparent from administration reaction Thursday. Obama and his team flew into a swirl of rhetoric about Republicans’ symbolic vote, which was aimed at handcuffing Department of Homeland Security funding for immigration as a way to let conservatives vent their anger.

“The United States House of Representatives is voting to prioritize breaking up families,” a senior administration official told reporters during an afternoon conference call. “They are willing to accept a system that they themselves call amnesty. … It doesn’t make the system better. It makes the system worse.”

The House bill passed by a 219-197 vote, with three Democrats backing it and seven Republicans opposed. (Three Republicans voted "present.")

Obama, speaking at a higher education event in Washington, pulled immigration into his speech. “Rather than deport students and separate families, and make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, I just want Congress to work with us to pass a common-sense law to fix that broken immigration system,” he said. “But in the meantime, there’s a lot that you and I can do together even if Congress doesn't act,” he told his young audience.

Recent polling indicates Americans broadly support Obama’s immigration policy goals but are divided about his strategy to act on his own to offer deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. The House vote offers the White House a public relations opening to blast conservatives’ supposed attacks on Latino families and defend the president for acting where he says he can against congressional obstruction. The House vote showed Americans that GOP lawmakers object to a federal program that would demand criminal background checks for millions of unauthorized migrants, and turn them into taxpayers, the White House argues.

Obama will travel to Tennessee on Tuesday to deliver additional remarks about immigration.

The White House insists the president’s “first-step” action, promised for months and announced last month, is lawful, constitutional and bolstered by ample precedent.  Many respected legal experts say it is not that clear cut. In addition to the pushback Thursday in the House, Texas and 16 other states filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, complaining Obama violated his constitutional requirement to enforce immigration laws and burdened state budgets as a result of his instructions to DHS to proceed with enforcement discretion.

The president has repeatedly said Congress could pass legislation to fix the immigration system and thus supplant his temporary administrative decision to help more than 4 million migrants apply to remain in the country to work. The administration is on track to begin implementing the president’s program in the spring, another senior administration official said.

“We will continue to oppose them,” the first White House official said of congressional measures that are intended to limit Obama’s powers.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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