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Republicans Rally To Counter Obama's Immigration Action


House Republicans went behind closed doors today to talk immigration - or more specifically, how to respond to President Obama's executive actions on immigration. One possibility - holding a vote this week to declare them null and void. The president's measures would give legal status to some 4 million people.


Such a vote would be largely symbolic since the legislation is unlikely to come up in the Senate and would be vetoed by the president. And a clash over the issue also played out at a hearing this morning.

CORNISH: As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, House Republicans pressed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about the recent moves.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It was clear from the start where Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee stood on the president's executive action on immigration. Here's Chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, reading his opening statement.


CONGRESSMAN MICHAEL MCCAUL: Immigration reform is an emotional and divisive issue. There is no doubt about that. But the President's unilateral actions to bypass Congress undermine the Constitution and threaten our democracy.

NAYLOR: McCaul also expressed concern that the actions will encourage more illegal immigration. Republican Peter King of New York challenged Johnson over the timing of the actions.


CONGRESSMAN PETER KING: We have the fact that anytime over the last six years the president could have issued this executive order, the fact that he did not issue the executive order until after the elections were over. If the president felt there was a consensus among the American people, then this should have been part of the campaign debate.

NAYLOR: Johnson responded that the administration had given Congress plenty of time to act. And only when it became clear the House would not, the administration moved. He also said the administration is on firm legal footing. To that, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz played Johnson a brief clip of the president the day after he announced his actions.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What you're not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law.


KING: So you say he didn't change the law, but the president says he changed the law.

JEH JOHNSON: We acted within existing law. We acted within our existing legal authority. Listen, I've been a lawyer 30 years. Somebody plays me an eight-word excerpt from a broader speech, I know to be suspicious.

NAYLOR: Johnson also called on lawmakers to pass a long-term funding bill for Homeland Security, and not a short-term measure called a CR, which Johnson said would hurt national security.


JOHNSON: We've got some Homeland Security priorities that need to be funded now. For example, we're back in a presidential election cycle. I cannot hire new Secret Service agents until I get an appropriations bill passed by this Congress - not another CR for a couple of months.

NAYLOR: But that appears to be the sentiment among Congressional Republicans right now - to temporarily fund Homeland Security until next year when the GOP controls both the House and Senate and believes it will have more leverage. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.