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Obama reform frustrates Republicans


Israel Montalvo and his daughter Brianna show their support for Barack Obama's immigration reform at a rally in front of the White House (AP)

Israel Montalvo and his daughter Brianna show their support for Barack Obama's immigration reform at a rally in front of the White House (AP)

Israel Montalvo and his daughter Brianna show their support for Barack Obama's immigration reform at a rally in front of the White House (AP)

Republicans outraged by Barack Obama's sweeping immigration measures are struggling for a response that will check the US president without veering into talk of impeachment or a government shutdown that could backfire on the party before the 2016 White House race.

Republicans considered filing a lawsuit, trying to block funding for Mr Obama's move or advancing immigration measures of their own. But the party was divided, and the president's veto power seemed to give him the upper hand.

Now, less than three weeks after mid-term elections where they retook the Senate and amassed a historic majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans have found themselves disarmed by a president whose unilateral move to curb deportations for millions left previously dispirited Democrats cheering and their rivals with no obvious response.

Leaders are casting about for a way to satisfy the most conservative members without overreacting and alienating Hispanic and moderate voters who will be critical for the 2016 election, when Republicans will be defending their new-found congressional majorities and aiming for the White House.

"We're working with our members, looking at the options that are available to us, but I will say to you: the House will, in fact, act," House speaker John Boehner said, the day after Mr Obama unveiled his landmark policy.

The president announced he was extending deportation protections and a chance for work permits to as many as five million immigrants now in the US illegally. He will also make more business visas available and reorder law enforcement priorities to focus more squarely on criminals for deportation.

Mr Obama acted after spending months trying to gain a House vote on a cross-party Senate immigration bill, frustrating immigration advocates and some Democrats who wanted him to instead take action on his own. He noted yesterday that 512 days had passed since the Senate passed the sweeping bill, which included a path to citizenship.

"The fact that a year and a half has gone by means that time has been wasted and during that time families have been separated and during that time businesses have been harmed," Mr Obama said at a Las Vegas rally where he defended his actions.

Republicans acknowledged they were at a disadvantage given that any legislative solution they settled on would be subject to a veto by Mr Obama that they could not likely overturn.

And party leaders were determined to steer clear of a repeat just a year after Congress' right-wing tea party contingent forced a politically damaging partial government shutdown over Mr Obama's health care law. But that was the scenario posed by a push among conservatives to use must-pass spending legislation to stop the president.

The situation posed a major challenge to Mr Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who will take over as majority leader once the new Congress convenes in January.

A handful of the most conservative House members have said impeachment should be on the table as a last resort. But Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of the fiercest opponents of Mr Obama's actions, tried to rule that out yesterday, telling the conservative Heritage Foundation: "We are not going to impeach or move to impeach."

The party leaders' job was complicated by the presence in the Senate of a handful of Republican presidential hopefuls who might want an opportunity to confront Mr Obama.

One of those, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, argued that the Senate should refuse to confirm any of Mr Obama's legislative or judicial nominations except for vital national security positions.

Republicans were divided over whether the spending process was a viable route to block Mr Obama. The current government funding measure expires on December 11 and Congress must pass a new one. If the measure is loaded with language to block Mr Obama, that could provoke a shutdown if he vetoes it.

Party leaders favor passing a full-year funding bill and avoiding such a fight, but conservatives are pushing for a shorter term measure, even if it does not have language on immigration, to maintain leverage over the president once the new Congress convenes.

Another option was advancing immigration legislation, something the Republican-controlled House has failed to do for more than a year since the Senate passed the immigration bill, which Mr Obama challenged House Republicans to pass.