WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers were holding their fire after President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he would unveil his long-awaited executive actions on immigration – but previous statements leave little doubt about where they stand.
The White House said an Obama speech Thursday at 6 p.m. Arizona time will outline actions the president will take “to fix our broken immigration system.” He will discuss those reforms in more detail in a Friday speech at Las Vegas’ Del Sol High School, an administration statement said.
Republicans and Democrats in Arizona’s congressional delegation said Wednesday they would wait for the details before commenting on the plan. But they have agreed on little else on the question of executive action.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, has criticized Obama in the past for not acting sooner on immigration. The president had first promised in June that he would act by the end of summer, then deferred any action until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake also said through aides that they wanted to see the details of the president’s reforms before reacting. The two were part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who wrote a comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013.
But Flake’s office pointed to a statement he made last week that signaled his disapproval of executive action by the president.
“As someone who supports broad reform to our immigration system, I’m very disappointed with the action I’m hearing the president will take,” Flake’s statement said. “It certainly doesn’t seem like the right way to work with a new Congress.”
That has been the steady message from incoming leaders of the House and Senate, both of which will be in Republican hands beginning in January. House Speaker John Boehner said shortly after the elections that the president would “poison the well” for any legislation on immigration if he took action on his own.
Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to enact immigration reforms, reiterating his “profound preference” for legislative action after the elections. But he has also said he would not wait for Congress and would take matters into his own hands before the end of the year if necessary.
Details of the president’s plan remained under wraps ahead of Thursday’s speech, but at a forum Wednesday in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the reforms would be “comprehensive.”
“I’m satisfied that our reforms are within our existing legal authority, and they will address a number of things, including border security … to fix a broken immigration system,” Johnson said.
While reasserting administration claims that the border is tighter than ever, Johnson said any plan from the White House would reflect the president’s commitment to border security. Obama is also widely expected to expand DACA – the current program of deferred deportation for children in this country illegally – to include other family members.
That potential change has already drawn the ire of GOP lawmakers, including Arizonans.
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But he has led the charge among House Republicans against what he calls Obama’s “executive amnesty” proposals, by blocking any funds for such a plan in the budget Congress must pass before the current one expires Dec. 12.
In a Nov. 13 letter to Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., leaders of the House Appropriations Committee, Salmon and 62 other lawmakers asked that any budget bill “prohibit funding for the president’s reported intentions to create work permits and green cards for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.”
“Congress has the power of the purse and should use it as a tool to prevent the president from implementing policies that are contrary to our laws and the desire of the American people,” the letter said.
Arizona Republican Reps. Trent Franks of Glendale, David Schweikert of Fountain Hills and Paul Gosar of Prescott joined Salmon in signing the letter.
Gosar went a step further Tuesday, co-sponsoring a resolution that would let the House sue Obama and administration officials for actions “inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution.”
“H.Res.757 sends a clear message that Congress will use every power vested to us from the Constitution to successfully block any executive order that violates our current immigration laws,” Gosar said in a statement.
“It is important that the House act now to rein in this rogue president threatening our fundamental system of checks and balances while disregarding the rule of law,” Gosar’s statement said.