LI members in Congress reflect sharp partisan divide on immigration action
The Republicans who will represent Long Island in Congress next year sharply criticized President Barack Obama as overstepping his authority Thursday by issuing a sweeping executive order on immigration.
But the Island's congressional Democrats defended the president's action as legal and necessary because House Republican leaders would not allow a vote on the Senate bill passed last year to fix the broken immigration system.
Members on both sides said Obama's long-awaited executive order will have a profound effect on the next Congress, when Republicans control both the House and Senate.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who will represent the East End in the House, called Obama's action "unconstitutional" and said Republicans must fight back.
But both said Republicans should not react by shutting down the government when they take up the measure on Dec. 11 to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
"There are going to be several different options debated in the next several days and weeks," Zeldin said.
Speaking for many Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said to Republicans: "There's one more option that would stop the president dead in his tracks while actually improving, not hurting, our economy: passing the bipartisan Senate immigration bill."
That's the response hoped for by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), as well as her successor, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Garden City Democrat.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) compared Obama's action to the executive orders that emancipated slaves and integrated the Armed Forces. "This is historic," he said.
Obama's order set off strong and at times conflicting responses by Republicans.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "The president has said before that 'he's not king' and he's 'not an emperor,' but he's sure acting like one."
Before the speech, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will be Senate majority leader, warned, "The president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told USA Today he's concerned some people might react to Obama's acting "outside the law" with "anarchy" and "violence."
Several ideas are being floated about what Congress should do.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proposed blocking all Obama appointees and defunding the agency that will implement the immigration order.
King said he favors a lawsuit to challenge Obama's authority to issue an executive order of such magnitude. Zeldin is not sure that's the best option.
King also said the Senate immigration bill is a good starting point for the House. Zeldin rejected the Senate approach because, he said, it tries to do too much and he opposes its pathway to citizenship as "amnesty."
Obama's action could tie up the next two to four months in Congress, King said. "He's doing it to try to create chaos in the Republican Party."