WASHINGTON -- The House passed the first of a pair of bills aimed at reining in what Republicans call a pattern of overreach by the executive branch under President Obama.
Democrats decried the base-pleasing measure as a political stunt. Immigration reform advocates said it threatens the administration’s deferred action deportation program.
The legislation is a response to what Republicans say has been an “imperial presidency” under Obama -- a term that one conservative lawmaker noted also fit the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. Obama’s new push to work around Congress using his “pen and phone” strategy only reinforces the need to, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said, “restore balance to our system of government.”
“This administration’s blatant disregard for the rule of law has not been limited to just a few instances,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “The president’s dangerous search for expanded power appears to be endless.”
Approved Wednesday in a party-line vote, the so-called ENFORCE the Law Act would give either the House or Senate standing in court to challenge any administration move to adopt a formal or informal policy not to enforce laws passed by Congress. Its sponsors point to various waivers of requirements in the new healthcare law as examples that would be subject to the new measure.
“Congress doesn’t pass suggestions. We don’t pass ideas. We pass laws,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), its chief sponsor, told reporters. “We have the expectation that those laws will be faithfully executed.”
The second bill, the Faithful Execution of the Law Act, would require the Justice Department to notify Congress of any instance in which a federal officer does not administer laws. A vote on it was postponed until Thursday.
Immigration reform advocates called the legislation another step by Republicans to undermine Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gives the Department of Homeland Security the ability to use discretion toward so-called Dreamers who entered the United States illegally as children.
Several Democrats took to the floor to make the same case.
“It’s not enough for the Republican majority to be setting record for how little they are doing,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leader for Democrats on the immigration issue. “They expect the same do-nothingness from the president, especially on immigration.”
Gutierrez pointed to a letter -- signed by both Democrats and Republicans -- to the Justice Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1999 urging then-President Clinton to use the same discretionary power, calling it “well-grounded.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) blamed Obama for the lack of immigration reform.
“He came to the Congress and he told us if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’m going to pick up the pen and the phone,” he said Wednesday at a monthly gathering of conservative lawmakers. “He’s already taunting us that he doesn’t need us. And then he’s telling us that he will go ahead and comply with the law if we pass immigration reform?”
“When he wants to start obeying the Constitution and following the Constitution, many of us are willing to do something,” he added.
The measures are almost certain to be defeated by the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the White House also threatened to veto both bills.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) contended that the bills were “not a serious attempt at anything,” but instead a “political press release” in an election year.
“When you talk about imperial anything, look in the mirror,” McGovern said, criticizing ways in which Democrats have been unable to secure votes on proposals such as immigration reform or an increase in the minimum wage. “This House is being run in the most imperial way, where anyone who has a different view is shut out from the debate.”
In hearings leading up to consideration of the bills, lawmakers heard testimony about executive overreach that included a discussion of impeachment as a remedy -- one that Republicans insisted was not their goal. In fact, they said the legislation would preempt the need for such a serious move.
Cantor, in his remarks on the House floor, insisted the legislation was not directed solely at Obama, warning a future Republican president might refuse to collect a tax increase passed by a Democratic Congress.
“Any future president must work with Congress to seek changes in laws that need to be reformed,” he said.