President Obama Uses Executive Action on Immigration Reform
Finally making good on threatened executive action on immigration, last night, President Obama delivered the largest protection for undocumented immigrants in nearly 30 years.
When Obama took office, he pledged to break America's broken immigration system. He managed to get a bipartisan immigration bill passed in the Senate. Still, the legislation stalled in the House.
Obama made the case on Thursday night that if House leaders had simply agreed to put the Senate bill to a vote then it would have passed and his executive action wouldn't be necessary.
Obama tried to blunt criticism of his action by first pledging to spend more money along the southern border. He also tried to balance his actions by explaining that his action will not allow just anyone to stay in the U.S. He argued that his executive order "prioritizes" the deportation of criminals instead of individuals who broke the law by entering the country illegally.
After the speech, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said that Obama's action suggests that the U.S. has a "constitutional crisis," and suggested the possibility of censuring the president. He did, however, say he didn't want to go near the "I word."
Many Republicans, while critical of Obama's actions, are fearful that some conservatives could overplay their hand on this issue and actually do the party harm in the lead up to 2016.
The President's administrative action is temporary, but it will affect an estimated 4.4 million undocumented immigrants, allaying fears they'll be caught, detained, and deported. Under Obama's plan, millions of undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for work authorization for three years, letting them come out of the shadows and be awarded the same protections from workplace abuses as U.S. citizens.
Parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can apply for three-year deportation deferrals under the executive order if they have lived in the U.S. for more than five years. Additionally, the executive order expands eligibility requirements for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, letting those born before 1981 apply to the program if they were brought here by their parents before age 16 and have resided in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2010.
A series of enforcement reforms are also in the mix, focusing on deporting felons rather than families. But these changes offer less benefits than deferred action programs. The undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive work authorizations.
Republicans Weigh Response to Immigration Action
President Obama's executive action on immigration brought swift condemnation from Republicans who have said for months that such an announcement would significantly reduce their incentive to move forward with comprehensive reform and work to fix the causes of the broken immigration system.
Obama's unilateral action also sets the stage for Republicans to face off against the White House in a funding showdown in upcoming weeks. Congress must pass a funding bill to keep the government open by Dec. 11., and already more than 60 House Republicans have called on House Speaker John Boehner to include a provision in the continuing resolution that would impede Obama from actually carrying out his plan to halt deportations. Appropriators, however, now say it may not be possible to defund the president's action.
While soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised not to lead his Republican conference down a shutdown war path, Boehner has been more reluctant to make that pledge. Boehner said last week that "all of the options are on the table."
After the address, Boehner said unilateral action isn't how American democracy works, saying he's "cemented his legacy of lawlessness."
"Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office," Boehner said in a press release. "We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people. We will listen to them, work with our members, and protect the Constitution."
Obama on Thursday said their option should be simple. "And 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."
Short of a shutdown, Republicans can pursue myriad options to display their displeasure. Boehner could once again sue the president, or add the latest immigration action to his lawsuit that has already been filed. That, of course, could languish in the judicial system for years and potentially be thrown out for lack of standing.
Republicans could also pass a short term spending bill this time and then look to defund parts of the president's executive immigration action through the 114th Congress's appropriations process. Again, a partial or full government shutdown could be the result.
Keystone Fails in Senate
This week, the Senate rejected an effort to move legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline forward - a move that was a major blow to Senator Mary Landrieu's uphill battle to save her Senate seat.
By a vote of 59 to 41, Landrieu and pipeline supporters came up one vote short of the needed 60 votes to move the legislation forward. All 41 Senators voting no were Democrats or Independents who caucus with Democrats.
It's a victory for environmental groups and their Democratic allies, who oppose the oil-sands pipeline because of its claimed contributions to global warming. It also saves President Obama a headache: The White House opposed the bill, but will be relieved not to have to veto it.
For Landrieu, it's another setback at an already low moment. Weeks away from Louisiana's Dec. 6 runoff election and trailing Rep. Bill Cassidy in the polls, Landrieu had hoped to use her steering of the measure through the Senate to infuse new life into her campaign. She got a boost from her party's top brass when they agreed to hold a stand-alone Keystone vote, a step they'd been loathe to take in the past.
And going into the vote, Landrieu had 59 assured supporters for her motion but, despite her assurances she could break a filibuster—it was never clear where she'd get No. 60. Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin was seen as one of Landrieu's last options, but he voted 'no' on the bill.
After the vote, Landrieu insisted that the loss did not undercut her argument that Louisiana voters should elect her for her clout in the upper chamber, telling reporters that the very existence of the lame-duck Keystone battle was proof of her credentials.
While this effort fell short, the issue is far from over. Legislation green-lighting the oil-sands project is certain to come to Obama's desk next year when Republicans take the reins in the Senate. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to move swiftly to authorize the pipeline.
TransCanada's project would carry hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil each day from oil-sands projects in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast. It would also carry oil from the booming Bakken formation in North Dakota.
Senate Rejects NSA Reform
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would limit the government's sweeping domestic spying powers. By a vote of 58 to 42, nearly every Democrat and four Republicans voted for the bill, the USA Freedom Act, but it failed to clear the 60-vote threshold necessary to move forward in the upper chamber. Its defeat almost certainly means that any reforms to the National Security Agency will have to wait until next year, when Republicans take over the Senate.
The Freedom Act, which first emerged in Congress in the months following former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks last summer, was widely supported by the tech industry, privacy and civil-liberties advocates, the Obama administration, and even senior members of the intelligence community.
But with the country engaged in military operations with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a majority of Republicans rallied against the Freedom Act. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and others suggested the bill could make Americans more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Sen. Rand Paul, who has long criticized the NSA, also voted against the measure. Last week, Paul's office said the Kentuckian would oppose the measure because it does not go far enough and would renew a portion of the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, which grants the government expansive spying powers. Backers of the Freedom Act saw Paul as a crucial and necessary ally to punch the bill through the Senate.
The measure did earn some Republican support, from Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Dean Heller, and Lisa Murkowski. Cruz in recent weeks had become more vocal in his criticisms of the NSA, which he said has acted with disregard of the Constitution.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida was the lone Democrat to vote down the bill.
The measure, authored chiefly by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, would effectively end the government's mass collection of metadata—the numbers and time stamps of phone calls but not their actual content. The once-secret practice was the first program exposed by Snowden last summer, which kicked off a torrent of disclosures revealing the size and scope of the U.S. government's broad surveillance authority.
Under the bill, phone companies such as Verizon would instead retain those records, which intelligence agencies could obtain only after being granted approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The bill would also usher in a host of additional privacy and transparency measures, including a more precise definition of what can be considered a surveillance target.
Energy Committee Pick Seen as Blow to Pelosi
On Wednesday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) beat out Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) for the top Democratic seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a public defeat for returning Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a victory for seniority as a primary factor driving committee races.
Eshoo had been Pelosi's choice to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman as the panel's ranking Democrat, but she was edged out by Pallone 100-90 in secret balloting by the entire Democratic Caucus. The Pelosi-controlled Democratic Steering and Policy Committee had endorsed Eshoo for the position on Tuesday, 30-19.
Some members said they believed Pelosi and other party leaders should take away some lessons from the results.
"One can make the argument she overdid it," Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said of the vigorous and very public push by Pelosi on behalf of Eshoo. However, Pascrell said he believes the vote was not so much a proxy rejection of Pelosi, as it was a "healthy" warning that leaders should pay more attention to members, "and not just around election time." He claimed that Pallone connected more with the rank and file.
"You've got to not only pay attention but listen to what folks are saying, and take everything into consideration," Pascrell said of the leadership. "I think that there's a lesson to be learned here."
Some noted that votes cast in the secret balloting for the Energy gavel were a safer way for rank-and-file members wary of retribution but dissatisfied with the party's direction—particularly after the results at the polls two weeks ago—to signal to Pelosi any discontent.
California 7th Congressional District: Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) sealed his win over former Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) after a new round of vote counting doubled Bera's lead to more than 1,400 votes.
California 16th Congressional District: Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) officially defeated Johnny Tacherra (R-CA) by roughly 1,300 votes.
Louisiana: Democrats have all but abandoned Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) after the DSCC pulled the plug on TV advertising they had reserved in advance of the December runoff. Recent polls show her opponent, Bill Cassidy (R-LA), with a sizeable advantage.
Former Navy Secretary and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) became the first 2016 Presidential candidate to toss his hat into the ring when he announced the formation of an exploratory committee this week.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) is quietly meeting with major Wall Street donors in New York to lineup financial support for a potential 2016 bid for the GOP nomination.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), fresh off his re-election earlier this month, is taking steps to launch a Presidential bid next summer.
A LOOK AHEAD
The House and Senate are not in session next week
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
6 million - Number of people living in slavery in 2014, according to Walk Free’s annual Global Slavery Index
40 percent - Share of new marriages in 2013 in which at least one partner had been married previously
THEY SAID WHAT?
“No frickin’ way am I retiring. With all this rehab, for me just to walk was a huge effort. I had to re-learn how to walk again after the stroke. And all the rehab and all the effort shows the mental determination times 10 to keep serving.” -- Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. (Roll Call)
"Analysts say Obama's new immigration plan will focus on deporting violent criminals. So, this could impact your fantasy football team." – Conan O'Brien
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