President Barack Obama’s forceful, emotional speech announcing his immigration executive action had a not-so-subtle message to Republicans: Don’t try and stop me.
“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,” he said. “I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.
“Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal-breaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this.”
“That’s not how American democracy works,” Boehner said.
“Not long ago, President Obama said the unilateral action he just announced was ‘not an option’ and claimed he’d already ‘done everything that I can on my own.’ He said it would lead to a ‘surge in more illegal immigration.’ He said he was ‘not a king’ and ‘not the emperor’ and that he was ‘bound by the Constitution.’ He said an action like this would exceed his authority and be ‘difficult to justify legally.’ He may have changed his position, but that doesn’t change the Constitution,” Boehner said.
“By ignoring the will of the American people, President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left. His ‘my way or the highway’ approach makes it harder to build the trust with the American people that is necessary to get things done on behalf of the country. Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office. 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.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was similarly resolute — and similarly without specifics, in his pre-buttal to the president’s remarks on the Senate floor.
Obama dinged House Republicans for failing to act on the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, which he noted passed with 68 votes.
“Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of bill a simple yes or no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties. And today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote,” he said.
But Obama’s remarks mostly went over the heads of furious Republicans to the American people, talking up the benefits of immigration — many of which Boehner has said he agrees with but has been unable to deliver.
Obama spinned his sweeping executive actions — outlined in detail by his advisers — as accountability, not amnesty.
He said most of the people he is offering executive deportation relief to would not have been deported anyway.
“Let’s be honest, tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans,” he said.
Obama minimized the benefits they could receive.
“All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you,” Obama said.
“I know some of the critics of the action call it amnesty. Well, it’s the not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today. Millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty, leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary it to our character.”
Obama appeared to choke up at points as he asked personal questions about the immigration system as it stands today.
“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?
“Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families and works together to keep them together?”
“… Over the past years I’ve seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs without taking a dime from the government, and at risk any moment of losing it all just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who except for the circumstances of their birth are as American as Malia or Sasha, students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in the country they love.”
“Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too,” Obama said, jabbing his finger for emphasis.
Obama Would Veto Any Bill Undoing Immigration Executive Action
Obama’s Own Words on Immigration Are Republicans’ Best Ammo
Immigration Threatens Loretta Lynch’s Confirmation
Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.