With a notable exception, congressional reaction to President Barack Obama's decision to issue an executive order on immigration divided predictably along partisan lines.
Republicans universally panned Obama’s action as “lawless” and unconstitutional while Democrats, for the most part, praised and defended his decision to act where Congress has failed.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., issued a statement that managed to criticize both congressional inaction and the reliance on executive orders to address such an important and contentious issue.
“Our immigration system is broken, and I support a comprehensive plan to fix it, but executive orders aren’t the way to do it. The system can only be truly fixed through legislation by Congress,” McCaskill said in an emailed statement. “The Senate’s comprehensive plan got overwhelming bipartisan approval, and Republicans in the U.S. House have sat on their hands for a year-and-a-half, refusing to even consider that bill. They should quit stalling, get to work, and do their jobs-debate the comprehensive plan that passed the Senate with a two-thirds margin.”
Obama also said he would have preferred a comprehensive measure passed by Congress and he, too, singled out House Republicans for criticism, saying that were Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to give the Senate bill an up or down vote, it would pass with bipartisan approval.
The president's executive orders could affect up to five million undocumented individuals. They would protect many undocumented parents of children born in the United States from deportation as well more individuals brought to this country as children. The executive orders would not provide a path to full legal status or make undocumented residents eligible for government benefits.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., issued a statement repeating what has been a frequent theme -- the president’s “executive over-reach.”
"The president cannot ignore the law, and Congress will act in response to the president’s executive over-reach,” Blunt said.
Blunt also question’s Obama’s constitutional authority to act on his own. “On more than 20 occasions, President Obama said he does not have the authority to take the executive action that he announced tonight. The president still does not possess that authority.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted in his statement that congressional Republicans had plenty of time to act but hadn't “It was 511 days ago that the Senate overwhelmingly passed comprehensive, bipartisan reforms to America’s broken immigration system," said Durbin. "Since that day, this measure has languished in the House of Representatives, where Republican leaders refused to call it for a vote.”
In the House, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, took what may be one of the strongest positions in support of the president, calling his decision “courageous and historic” and saying that Obama acted “under his direct constitutional authority.”
Clay also criticized House Republicans for blocking the bipartisan Senate bill, saying the House GOP stance “forced” the president to issue an executive order.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, disagreed. The president’s “decision to unilaterally rewrite our immigration laws, for over 5 million unlawful immigrants, is a slap in the face to the American people who overwhelmingly rejected his failed agenda on Election Day,” she said.
A group of six House Republicans from Illinois issued a joint statement against the president: “President Obama’s plan to ignore the Constitution and circumvent Congress is a lawless move that will ultimately do much more harm than good.” Among those joining in the statement are John Shimkus of Collinsville, Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Aaron Shock of Peoria.
Republicans say they will move quickly in the new Congress to rein in the president and his use of executive orders on immigration and other issues.
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