WASHINGTON -- Republicans may largely have given up on killing the president's immigration executive actions this week as part of a government funding bill, but they insisted Wednesday they're as committed as ever to stopping the new deportation relief policies.
"We're going to fight this illegal amnesty and we're not going to stop," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a press conference, joined by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and a group of sheriffs. "We're not going to give in, we're not going to yield. We're going to stand strong for the people of the United States of America."
Congressional leaders announced on Tuesday evening that they had come to an agreement on government funding, which is set to run out this week. There are a number of policy riders tacked on, but left out was any measure to block President Barack Obama's recent executive actions on immigration, which could give deportation relief to up to 5 million people. House members got their chance last week to voice their dissent to the policies, but now must vote on short-term funding for the Department of Homeland Security without language to stop the agency from using the money to implement the executive actions.
The funding for DHS would only go into early next year, giving Republicans another shake at using the spending process to block Obama's policies once the GOP controls both the House and Senate.
"Without a threat of a government shutdown, this sets up a direct challenge to the president's unilateral actions on immigration when we have new majorities in both chambers of Congress," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference on Wednesday morning.
Some conservatives have objected to this plan, including Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who said in a Tuesday statement that he would push for an amendment to block Obama's executive actions within the funding bill.
"If we fund DHS for a short time without spending limitations stripping Obama Amnesty, we will have lost our Constitutional virtue," he said in that statement.
But most Republicans seemed resigned to the fact that the funding would move forward without a rider over immigration. Boehner has predicted bipartisan support in the House for the funding measures, which would allow some on the right-flank of the GOP conference to vote against funding without risking a government shutdown.
Sessions, for his part, said he had hoped the agreement would have stronger language on immigration, but did not give a firm answer on how he plans to vote. But he indicated that he thinks next year, when Republicans control the Senate, might be the time to block the executive actions.
"We have the potential to move into next year, I think, with the commitment to do something," he told reporters.
With the debate over immigration action out of the government funding measures, at least for now, the two sides are engaged in something of a war to win public opinion. Obama has made a primetime address and three public appearances around the country to attempt to sell his actions. The White House and Democrats are teaming up on an "Immigration Strike Team" to respond to attacks on the policies. Polling has shown that Americans are split on whether Obama should act on his own on immigration.
The debates played out on the Hill in two hearings -- one led by Senate Democrats and another by House Republicans -- and two press conferences. At their press conference, Democratic senators stood with undocumented immigrants to argue Obama acted within his legal authority, and that he needed to do so because House Republicans hadn't passed immigration reform.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) got into a heated debate on that point at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing later on, demanding to know whether a witness, Dr. John Eastman of Chapman University School of Law, thought all undocumented immigrants should be deported. Eastman said Obama needed to enforce existing law, prompting Durbin to say the professor had come out "in favor of mass deportation."
"I'm telling you, if you think that we can deport 11 million people without dramatic negative impacts on individuals, families and our economy, then I don't believe you're in the world of reality," Durbin said.
Across Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing about the surge of unaccompanied minors who were caught crossing the border illegally earlier this year. Republicans at that hearing repeatedly blamed the increase in crossings by minors, which has now dropped significantly, on Obama's previous administrative action on immigration, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Obama's newest announcements could cause the same surge, they said, unless the executive actions are stopped.
"Through one executive action after another, the Obama administration has sent a signal to unlawful immigrants that once they get here, they can remain here in violation of the law without consequence," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.