WASHINGTON » Americans For Prosperity — the group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers — has met quietly with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, cautioning them against fighting the president’s promised executive order on immigration with a strategy that could lead to a government shutdown.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey echoed that sentiment Monday in a private meeting of newly elected House members.
And on Tuesday, House Republicans emerged from a closed meeting coalescing around two plans that would help fight an expected executive order on immigration from President Barack Obama without fully shutting down the government.
"We went down the government shutdown route a year ago. It didn’t work, and I think a lot of people that recall that don’t think it’s wise to repeat that exercise," said Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. "We’ve got a lot more than just a sledgehammer in the toolbox, and so let’s use some of these other weapons that we have."
One option floated by Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, calls for passing his committee’s broad spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline, and then rescinding just the funding for Mr. Obama’s executive action.
The other option, proposed by Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, calls for passing most of the broad spending bill — but taking out just those funding programs specifically related to the Obama’s planned immigration action, and fighting the president with a short-term stand-alone measure for those particular funds.
Obama could announce as soon as this week an executive order that would allow up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants to remain in the country and work without fear of deportation.
"We want the government fully funded, but that particular area needs to be defunded," said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. "We don’t want a government shutdown at all, but we’re going to super-scalpel on that area where the president is acting illegally."
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said that House Republicans were considering a range of options, but that they did not plan to shut down the government, while still promising to fight the president on immigration.
"Everything is on the table and the speaker has committed that we’re going to come up with a plan that does not allow the president to have the funding to do this," Salmon said.
Earlier, Rogers had called on colleagues in an opinion article to pass his committee’s spending bill "in a responsible, transparent and pragmatic way, without the specter of government shutdowns or the lurching, wasteful and unproductive budgeting caused by temporary stopgap measures."
Their collective voice carried an unmistakable message for the more conservative Republicans in Congress: Shutting down the government would be a terrible way for the party to start its time in power.
In floor speeches, opinion articles, public statements and private meetings, Republicans have urged their more conservative colleagues to allow the broad spending bill to pass before the deadline.
Americans For Prosperity’s basic pitch to Republicans is: Do not let the president’s immigration stance derail you from your ambitious governing agenda. For those who want to fight Obama on immigration, the group counsels, the best opportunity will come in the next Congress — when Republicans will control both chambers — through the so-called "regular order" process of committee deliberation and full debate on the floor.
"It is important for the new Republican majority to stay focused on crucial priorities like rolling back Obamacare, passing the Keystone pipeline and other energy initiatives, and passing a free market budget," said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity. "That means not overreacting to executive orders by the president."
The 16-day government shutdown in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act badly damaged the Republicans’ standing, and many party elders and strategists want to avoid a repeat.
In his op-ed article in Roll Call, Rogers said Republicans had a mandate "to work together, to govern, to stop the punting and procrastinating, and to make the tough decisions and cast the hard votes to accomplish the tasks they sent us to Washington to do. Completing our lingering appropriations work quickly will help us fulfill this mandate both now and in the months to come."
Ryan Zinke, an incoming Republican representative from Montana, said that among the messages delivered by Christie was "not shutting the government down."
And speaking on the Senate floor Monday, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he had been having "productive, bipartisan conversations" with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, about passing the spending bill.
"It’s clear to me that Republican leaders want to work together to keep the government funded," Reid said. "I hope Republicans in Congress will reject this brinkmanship. A scorched earth policy is no way to govern. Instead, responsible leaders within the Republican Party need to work with Democrats to complete the business of funding our government, regardless of when the president acts to keep families together."
Some Republicans, however, including Boehner, have left the possibility of a shutdown on the table. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an outspoken opponent of an immigration overhaul, is readying legislation to undo whatever action the president takes, as well as to undo the protected status the president has already provided to the young undocumented immigrants brought here as children.
"I’d like to find a way we can keep as much of the government operating as possible, but there’s no way that this Congress should go forward with any appropriations that goes into any department that reacts to the command of the president when he commands that they violate the law or the Constitution," King said last week. "So that means that we can’t fund the branches of government that would be executing his lawless unconstitutional act, should he commit it."
Even Republicans who have been outspoken critics of what they view as "executive amnesty" — as well as what they say is the president’s general overstepping of his constitutional authority — said that a government shutdown was not a savvy move for the party.
"I’m just unalterably opposed to another government shutdown. I’m not going to do that to my state, and I will do everything in my power to see that we don’t shut down the government," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "There are lots of ways we can respond, including going to court, including Appropriations bills, including the Budget Act. There are lots of the things we can do. Shutting down the government should not be one of the options."
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — one of four Republicans, along with McCain, who worked to produce a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate last year — said he shared McCain’s goal. He said he had been giving simple counsel to colleagues behind the scenes: "Don’t shut the government down."