By Maya Rhodan
November 14, 2014

President Obama is poised to take unilateral executive action on immigration despite warnings from Republican leaders in Congress. The President’s plan, which would block deportation for as many as 5 million illegal immigrants, could come as soon as next week, the New York Times reports, and Washington and much of the country are bracing for the fallout.

But what exactly can the GOP do if the President acts?

Congressional leaders have said any action the president takes on his own will prompt a swift reaction. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will serve as the Majority Leader in upcoming session, has likened it to “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Republicans will “fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down that path.”

Practically, the GOP’s options are limited. As TIME’s Alex Rogers reported in October, a lawsuit is a costly route with a low-likelihood of success. Many Republicans nonetheless have come out in support of pursuing a legal battle. A suit authorized by House Republicans over the summer claims the President has overstepped the bounds of executive authority, and could be expanded to include his immigration moves if the president acts unilaterally. A decision on whether to include immigration in the suit will only be made “if and when” the President acts, according to a Congressional aide.

Another possibility: the GOP could force another government shutdown if Obama acts before Congress passes a federal spending bill. The deadline for Congress to fund government programs is Dec. 11, and while Sen. Mitch McConnell has flat out said there will be “no government shutdown,” he’s not the only one with a say in the matter. Conservative Republicans are increasingly calling for leveraging a spending bill as a threat against Obama’s immigration plans. Boehner on Thursday indicated though the goal isn’t to shut down the government, Congress intends to “stop the president from violating his oath of office and violating the Constitution.”

Even some Democrats have signaled they’d rather the President wait until the government is funded before acting on immigration. “I’d like to get the finances of this country out of the way before he does it. But it’s up to him,” current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told CNN.

The president appears increasingly inclined to act, perhaps in part because the GOP’s options for blocking him are costly an unappealing. At a press conference in Myanmar early Friday he said an executive order on immigration is “going to happen. And that’s going to happen before the end of the year.”

But Obama is not in a particularly strong political position either. Cornell Law Professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr has said, “the president has boxed himself into a corner.” Says Yale-Loehr: “Republicans will argue that even the smallest executive immigration actions subvert Congress’ power.”

The real casualty in the maneuvering, says Noah Pickus, an immigration expert and associate research professor at Duke University, will be any chance for long-term immigration reform, which both parties say is necessary.

“The tough nut is to actually create a package in which both sides feel some real pain — and neither the President nor the Republicans have been willing to do that,” Pickus says. “The Republicans’ response to the President’s acting on his own will take us back through another endless Kabuki theater of policy-making rather than moving us into a new venue to see a new kind of play.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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