Speaker of the House John Boehner wants to sue President Obama. Former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin wants to impeach President Obama. And Republicans across the board are in a froth over the president's allegedly aggressive use of executive authority.
And yet, there are some issues that have so discombobulated Republicans that they are turning their lonely eyes to Obama for answers: Namely, the influx of Central American child migrants on America's southern border. Faced with the unappealing prospect of using their own congressional power of the purse to solve the problem, Republicans are reacquainting themselves with the allure of executive power.
The current border crisis is the result of Obama following a law signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush and designed to save children from human trafficking. The law created different rules for children hailing from nations contiguous to America — Mexico and Canada — and children from elsewhere. For children coming from the two contiguous nations, Border Patrol agents can use their discretion to quickly send them home to their families. But since repatriation is more logistically complicated for children coming from farther away, the law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to provide housing and care as well as the guidance to seek legal counsel, which generally puts them on a path for a formal judicial review.
Speaker Boehner has now proposed changing that law, saying last week, "I think we all agree that the non-contiguous countries, that now we're required to hold those people, I think clearly, we would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico." But to apply the language we have with Mexico to Central American child migrants, you'd have to empower Obama's Border Patrol agents — and effectively, Obama — to decide if those children must go back.
While Boehner wants to pass new legislation expanding Obama's executive power, other Republicans just want Obama to assert his Oval Office authority without action by Congress. On Fox News Sunday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly shrugged off the stipulations of the 2008 law and suggested Obama solve the problem on his own by deploying the National Guard to block entry at the border. Fox's Brit Hume incredulously responded, "Are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won't shoot them and can't arrest them?"
House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers said on Meet The Press that Obama "has tools in his toolbox that he can use immediately to stop this," citing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's interpretation of the 2008 law which she co-authored. What Rogers chose not to highlight on national television is that Feinstein says Obama has the power to modify how the law is being implemented by directing the Department of Homeland Security to write new regulations — exactly the type of action that has prompted all the Republican talk of lawsuits and impeachment on other issues.
This may seem like your standard-issue Washington hypocrisy: Shake your fist against presidential power when you don't like what the president is doing, and then pound your fist to demand presidential action to shift focus away from your reluctance to take any responsibility for governing the country.
But the Republican two-step is about more than hypocrisy. Their sudden renewed attraction to executive power lays bare how empty their excuses are for burying comprehensive immigration reform.
If Republicans really believe Obama is too slippery to trust with any legal directives to "secure the border," they would be pushing for laws that tie his hands, such as mandatory deportations without judicial review and mandatory increases of National Guard or Border Patrol troops on the border.
They're not, because deep down Republicans know their talking points about a lawless, trustless president are bunk. And the only thing stopping Republicans from passing comprehensive immigration reform is the fear of losing votes from anti-immigrant bigots. Any other excuse has been rendered inoperative.