Conservatives respond to Obama speech with anger - and uncertainty

Senator Ted Cruz. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Senator Ted Cruz says Republicans should refuse to confirm any new presidential appointees

As details of President Barack Obama's plan for unilateral action on immigration reform spread, conservatives flocked to Twitter to engage in a bit of a thought experiment.

What if President George W Bush, after his attempts to partially privatise the Social Security retirement savings programme were rebuffed by Congress, had decided to implement his plan by executive fiat?

Or what if the next Republican president instructed the Internal Revenue Service to leave some capital gains or estate taxes uncollected?

By issuing an executive order to defer deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the US, they argued, Mr Obama is setting a precedent for moves that Democrats now supporting their president would find highly offensive.

"Obama isn't the first president to abuse executive power - not by a longshot," writes the Federalist's David Harsanyi. "But he has to be the first president in American history to overtly and consistently argue that he's empowered to legislate if Congress doesn't pass the laws he favours."

Mr Obama argues that the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US constitute a crisis that Republicans have refused to address. According to Harsanyi, however, the urgency of the matter is in the eye of the beholder.

"Authoritarians, great and minor, always claim more powers to fix some unprecedented emergency," he writes.

Creators Syndicate columnist Mona Charen says that Mr Obama, and his supporters, have been corrupted by power.

"This is not constitutional government," she writes. "This is not separation of powers. This is strong-arming."

Behind the conservative howls of outrage over the president's move is a growing realisation that their party has no good options for how to respond.

Some, like CNS News's Terry Jeffrey, argue that Congress should not allocate funds for the federal agency responsible for processing newly legal immigrants.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Barack Obama's immigration action could be politically difficult for Republicans to undo

Conservative Senator Ted Cruz is calling for Congress to refuse to approve any Obama non-national-security-related executive or judicial appointments. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker endorses a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the president's move. Still others are urging a government shutdown or that Congress begin the process of removing Mr Obama from office and even jailing him.

Then there's another strategy some conservatives are advancing. Do nothing.

The president's move doesn't need to be countered, this line of thought goes - it will backfire on its own, as an unconvinced public rejects his proposal.

"After a decade of stalled growth and flat wages, large numbers of Democrats tell pollsters they'd be 'much more' likely to support GOP candidates who prioritize Americans workers over companies that want to employ migrants," writes the Daily Caller's Neil Munro. "Obama's dollops of sentiment and guilt-speak likely won't make any difference."

Bloomberg View's Meghan McArdle agrees. "Announcing that it's absurd to expect you to enforce the law, so you're not going to bother to try, might sort of rub voters the wrong way," she writes.

More than that, writes Pat Buchanan, Mr Obama's unilateral efforts will mean he is responsible for any future immigration crises.

"If the amnestied illegals contribute to the drug trade and violent crime, that will be Obama's legacy to his country," he writes. "If they turn up disproportionately on the welfare rolls, exploding state and federal deficits, that will be Obama's legacy. If this amnesty is followed by a new invasion across the border America cannot control, that, too, will be Obama's gift to his countrymen."

Even if the president's plan is not a popular success, however, it's going to be a daunting task for any Republican - currently in Congress or a future president - to undo.

"The politics of telling people who have been pardoned, en masse, that they are criminals once more is not the same as the politics of opposing their pardon in the first place," writes the National Review's Daniel Foster.

According to columnist Linda Chavez, the way out for conservatives is to embrace efforts to reform immigration and advance a plan of their own.

"Is there no one among them brave enough to stand up and say let's draft meaningful reform and make our borders more secure by providing legal ways for workers to come here?" she asks. "The American people want that kind of leadership. They want action, not angry talk and threats."

Republicans were labelled the "party of no" for much of Mr Obama's presidency, as they rallied to block the liberal initiatives while in the minority. They will soon control both chambers of Congress, however, and Mr Obama's move - overreach or not - puts the focus on how they will respond.

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