WASHINGTON -- As Republicans threaten that executive action on immigration could blow up the chances of passing legislation, a bipartisan group of pro-reform politicians urged them to move forward on a bill anyway.
Three members of the Bipartisan Policy Center's immigration task force -- Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and former Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) -- told reporters on Thursday that Republicans can and should address immigration in the next two years, even if President Barack Obama enacts changes administratively. In fact, they said, executive action could spur them to act faster -- perhaps by making them move to supersede Obama, or by giving them a deadline to pass a bill before a plan went into effect.
"Republicans, regardless of what the president does, should go ahead with a package of immigration reform bills," Barbour said.
Obama said Wednesday that the election, which gave Republicans control of the Senate, wouldn't change his plans to enact executive action on immigration before the end of the year. Although the White House has been quiet about what that action might be, it could potentially shield many undocumented immigrants -- possibly millions -- from deportation.
Republicans have said such a move would be unconstitutional and that it could kill chances for reform. Some have insisted a GOP-led Senate is likely to pass immigration reform, despite the party's opposition to previous attempts.
"I think the president choosing to do a lot of things unilaterally on immigration would be a big mistake," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), likely the next majority leader, said during a Wednesday press conference. "It's an issue that most of my members want to address legislatively and it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull to say, 'If you guys don't do what I want, I'm going to do it on my own.'"
"I hope he won't do that because I do think it poisons the well for the opportunity to address a very important domestic issue,"McConnell added.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Barbour said "immigration won't be at the top of [Republicans'] list, but that it ought to be on the list." That's true whether or not Obama takes executive action, he said, adding that he doesn't think the president should act on his own.
"I would prefer, and if the president asked my opinion, that he doesn't issue an executive order, just simply because Sen. McConnell's comment yesterday is pretty indicative of the vast majority of Republicans, that they see that as something that Congress ought to decide," Barbour said. "But if he does issue an executive order, that's all the more reason for Congress to go ahead and act on this."
Rendell, the Democrat on the press call, said he thinks the president has to issue an executive order, and proposed two potential scenarios: Obama could announce the substance of the order but say he will not issue it until next year, giving Republicans time to pass a bill before then, or he could act now and say Congress is welcome to pass its own legislation as well.
"I think what we need in the short-run is everybody to hold their fire," Rendell said. "The president should be clear -- and he was yesterday -- that he wants this done legislatively and he's just issuing this executive order to fill the breach, and the Republicans should understand that they can't go crazy when the president issues his executive order. That they should understand that if they send him a bill ... and it's a reasonable bill, he will sign it and it will supersede the executive order."