By Todd J. Gillman and Kimberly Railey, The Dallas Morning News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz implored fellow Republicans on Wednesday to block funding for the president’s immigration action — a gambit that could complicate last-minute talks to keep the government open past next week.
The Texas senator also demanded a freeze on Senate confirmations. That put in the crossfire Sarah Saldana, the Dallas-based U.S. attorney tapped to run the agency that tracks down those in the country illegally and enforces immigration law.
“We will fund the operation of the federal government, but we will not allocate taxpayer dollars for lawless and illegal amnesty,” Cruz said at a rally with House hardliners outside the Capitol.
The conservative uproar demonstrated that victory in last month’s elections hasn’t eliminated divides among Republicans over how to confront President Barack Obama, especially on immigration. And it showed that Cruz continues to position himself as the leader of staunch conservatives who favor a more confrontational approach.
The Texas senator huddled with House conservatives earlier in the day, as he does with some frequency, to plot strategy. Their goal is to prod GOP leaders into using the budget fight to pressure Obama to back down on immigration. In fall 2013, he instigated a budget showdown over Obamacare that led to a 16-day government shutdown.
Democrats warned of a similar outcome over the latest demands. The current budget expires Dec. 11.
“It’s childish,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
“You’re playing games with the budget,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the caucus. “We hope that our Republican colleagues aren’t on a course that once again shuts down the government.”
On Nov. 20, Obama announced actions to shield about 5 million people in the country illegally from deportation. He contends he acted within his authority and executive discretion. “Temperatures need to cool a bit in the wake of my executive action,” he said Wednesday at a meeting with business leaders.
Conservatives fiercely dispute his assertions of presidential authority. Signs at the Cruz rally expressed the displeasure.
“If you like your dictator, you can keep your dictator,” read one sign, a play on the president’s promise that those satisfied with their health insurance had nothing to fear from his signature health care law. “It’s amnesty. Already done once. It didn’t work. Close the border,” read another.
“There are so many of us conservatives that have said, ‘Secure the border and you’ll be amazed what we’d be willing to negotiate,’ ” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “But until you secure the border, there’s no sense in doing an amnesty.”
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) called “the president’s lawless, unconstitutional act” intolerable. He asserted that any lawmakers who vote for a budget that in any way supports Obama’s moves would themselves be violating their oath to uphold the Constitution.
The conservative resistance could prove vexing for House Speaker John Boehner. The Ohio Republican has sought a deal that would fund most of the government through next September.
To mollify conservatives, he has proposed a plan that would keep the Department of Homeland Security open only until February or March. By then, Republicans will have more leverage because they’ll control the Senate as well as the House.
The White House prefers a full-year budget that covers the entire government. But Obama aides have signaled some willingness to accept Boehner’s approach — as long as Congress doesn’t attach provisions to a budget that would stymie his immigration actions.
Cruz demanded precisely that at Wednesday’s rally.
“We should not be funding illegal amnesty. The funding for that occurs in the Department of Homeland Security, so we should attach a rider to the funding for DHS,” he said, depicting that as a routine exercise of congressional budgeting authority.
“We are today facing a full-fledged constitutional crisis,” he said, adding that “we fought a bloody revolution to free ourselves from the control of monarchs.”
Cruz argued that Obama’s actions must be blocked because a future president who doesn’t care for, say, capital gains taxes or environmental regulation could assert the same sort of authority and refuse to enforce those laws, he said.
“Every liberal, every moderate, every Democrat who thinks you like this particular policy, think very, very carefully,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve Saldana’s nomination to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative agency after the FBI. Both Texas senators, Cruz and fellow Republican John Cornyn, voted against her.
Cornyn had introduced her at a confirmation hearing two months ago and lauded her as a strong pick. But on Wednesday, he reversed course, saying that he, too, was “troubled” by her views on Obama’s executive action.
The Senate’s Homeland Security Committee approved Saldana’s nomination Nov. 12. ICE falls under the jurisdiction of both panels.
Confirmation requires only a majority vote from the full Senate. It’s unclear if outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will be willing to provoke Republicans before the handover of power on Jan. 6.
Photo: jbouie via Flickr