WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that President Barack Obama has the authority to act without Congress on immigration, and that when the president does so, he should do as much as possible to protect families.
"I think when the president decides to do his executive order, he should go big," Reid told reporters at a press conference. "As big as he can."
Obama could take executive action as soon as this week to grant deportation relief, revamp enforcement programs and make other administrative changes to immigration policy. Republicans have said they will do whatever they can to block that action, including potentially creating a showdown over funding the government.
But Reid urged Republicans not to let Obama's executive action threaten government funding.
"The fact that [Obama] has to do something on immigration -- has been forced to do something on immigration -- should not stop us from doing our job, and that is funding the government," he said at the press conference.
Last week, Reid said that he would "like to get the finances of this country out of the way before" Obama takes action on immigration. On Tuesday, however, the majority leader clarified that he had been expressing the views of fellow Democratic senators in those comments. Reid said he had never suggested a delay to the president and had urged him to move as soon as he could.
Reid made similar comments in an interview with Univision on Monday, saying he thinks executive action "should be done now." He told Univision that he believes "the president should go big, as big as he can," including acting to protect the parents of young people who came to the U.S. as children and already received relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Reid and other top Senate Democrats sent the president a letter on Monday saying they stand behind him on executive action, including for parents of DACA recipients, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Republican leaders in Congress have not yet said definitively how they will respond to executive action by the president. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a separate press conference on Tuesday that "there are a lot of options on the table." One idea reportedly under consideration is to pass only short-term funding bills that would create more opportunities to pressure Obama on immigration.
"There's a lot of good ideas out there and we're considering all of them," Boehner said when asked about Republicans' plans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will take over as majority leader in January, has said that the GOP will not incite a government shutdown. But some members of his caucus argue that Congress should attach measures to government funding legislation that would block Obama's executive action, which could put the two sides on the path to a shutdown once again.
McConnell said at his own press conference Tuesday that Congress could use its funding authority to push back on executive action, but acknowledged that this approach would have its difficulties.
"It's always appropriate to use the power of the purse, but it's important to remember that the president has an important trump card. It's called the veto pen," McConnell said. "So there will be ongoing negotiations in the various efforts to fund the government, both this year and next year, about priorities. This is not unusual."
"We do have different priorities, and somehow we're going to have to work out things and make progress for the American people," he added.