BOCA RATON, Fla.
As President Barack Obama prepares to announce executive action on immigration reform in a Thursday evening primetime address to the nation, he is already facing criticism from many of his would-be replacements.
At the annual retreat of the Republican Governors Association, a cohort of governors eyeing bids at the White House blasted Obama’s planned announcement even as they were silent on any counter-proposals to address the President’s concerns. The immigration debate, operatives in both parties say, is likely to be front-and-center in 2016.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called Obama’s forthcoming announcement a “profound mistake.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called it “the height of arrogance for this president to go around the Congress.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said someone should sue to stop it. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that his state would.
But the governors were by-and-large loath to offer their own vision for how to address the nation’s immigration issues. In 2013, after the party’s 2012 defeat, the Republican National Committee identified immigration reform as a must-pass issue for the GOP. But the GOP successfully bet on an older, whiter electorate in 2014 to justify the delay internally. House Republicans have refused to take up a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, a move that Obama has said prompted his unilateral action.
The only apparent consensus among the governors was that Obama was going down the wrong path and should first deal with securing the border. “You will not get Americans to support an immigration reform bill until—not together, but until—the border is secure,” Perry said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would wait to see what Obama announced before weighing in. “We will have to wait and see what he says and what he does and what the legal implications are,” he said.
The governors encouraged congressional Republicans to avoid a government funding show-down this December over Obama’s immigration actions, saying a shutdown would be counterproductive. Christie said he has “confidence” in Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell can keep the government open. “All this kind of hysteria about shutdown to me is just people wanting to make news,” Christie added. “I wouldn’t push a shutdown, I think you go to court,” Walker said.
Pence called on Republicans to use the budget process to push back against Obama’s action. “The president has an opportunity now to work with the Congress after it convenes in January and to find a piece-by-piece approach in dealing with the issue of immigration reform,” he said. “The power of the Congress is the power of the purse.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday the action would affect “millions,” while advocates familiar with the action say roughly five million will be affected.
Asked about specific immigration reform proposals, Christie repeatedly declined to weigh in. “If I run [for president], we’ll see,” he said. “If I were to run for president, I would then articulate the basis for my candidacy.”
Only Kasich explicitly stated he was open to a pathway to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally. “I’m open to it, I will tell you that,” he said.
“There already is a path to citizenship in this country and I would suggest it shouldn’t be changed,” Perry said, breaking with Kasich.
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