WASHINGTON - House Republicans voted to rebuke President Obama for his unilateral overhaul of the nation's immigration system Thursday, passing legislation to curb the White House's ability to protect millions from being deported.
But the effort was largely symbolic: The Democratic-controlled Senate plans to ignore the bill, and the White House has said it would veto it.
Still, the political consequence of the bill that passed 219-197 (three Republicans voted present), is the bolstered standing of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio), leaving him well-positioned to pass an omnibus spending bill next week that would fund the government beyond next Thursday, when current funds will expire. Some of the most conservative GOP members wanted to tie the immigration defunding measure to the larger government spending bill.
But Boehner's ease so far in persuading his unruly conference to forgo a politically risky showdown underscores a new pragmatic streak in his ranks since the GOP's big gains in the midterm elections.
Rather than governing by crisis as they have in recent years, House Republicans now seem eager to move past the tumultuous lame-duck session and look ahead to January, when they will take control of both congressional chambers. They hope to pass bills on tax issues, energy policy, and their own versions of immigration revamping.
"We've learned some hard lessons since the government shutdown last year," said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.), a Boehner ally. "People are swallowing things that are difficult to swallow on all sides of the conference."
Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.), a firebrand who voted against Boehner in the speaker election two years ago, wrote the legislation that passed the House on Thursday. It was included as part of the GOP's response in order to signal to hard-liners that Boehner was listening to their pleas to repudiate the president. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.), a new member of the leadership team trusted by many conservatives, orchestrated its consideration and passage.
"We think this is the most practical way to fight the president's action," Boehner said at a Thursday news conference. "Frankly, we listened to our members, and we listened to some members who were frankly griping the most. This was their idea of how to proceed."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest warned Thursday that Yoho's bill "would actually roll back some of the president's proposed reforms to the immigration system in a way that would actually devote law enforcement resources to deporting 'Dreamers.' The president does not believe it is an efficient or effective use law enforcement resources to try to separate these individuals from their families."
Earnest questioned why the House GOP was taking the time to pass a measure to "roll back" the president's initiatives rather than voting on a bipartisan immigration bill passed by the Senate last year. "It's a little nonsensical for them to be pursuing this course of action, but not inconsistent with their previous strategy."
Thursday's vote is only the first step in Boehner's two-part immigration strategy. Before next week's vote on the spending bill, the leadership is both reassuring conservatives that the immigration fight is only beginning and courting Democrats to support the spending bill.