Questions emerged Thursday among House Republicans on whether Congress has the authority to defund parts of the federal government that will be tasked with implementing President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
Many Republicans are proposed so-called "defunding" language as a way to prevent Obama from imposing his changes to U.S. immigration policy, in a way that would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.
But Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee released a statement saying that the House would not be able to take this step. The committee said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is run entirely by the fees it collects, instead of appropriations from Congress, which means Congress couldn't pass legislation limiting the way it uses those fees.
"Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the 'E-Verify' program," the committee said. "Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to 'de-fund' the agency."
But that position led to immediate criticism from other Republicans, who said Congress still has authority over how various agencies spend their money, regardless of how they get it.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the more vocal opponents of Obama's plans, went to the House floor shortly after the committee statement was released, and cited prior legislation that shows Congress can stop spending even if it comes from fees.
"Those that say we can't do so with fees, I'll read you the language that does so," King said. He then quoted legislation that said, "None of the funds made available in this act or any user fees and other revenue may be used…"
"This is not rocket science," King said. "Are we going to allow a president to violate the Constitution and say our rules in the House won't let us restrain the president? I call that another red herring."
The House Appropriations Committee appears to be putting up some resistance to the idea of defunding Obama's move. Earlier this week, Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) proposed that Congress should pass a bill funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, and then pass a "rescissions" bill next year if the GOP wants to stop Obama.
But some Republicans said that plan makes no sense, since a rescissions bill is just a regular bill that could be vetoed by Obama, making it highly unlikely it could become law.
Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, noted that Rogers appears to have "flip-flopped," as he was pitching the idea of a rescissions bill earlier in the week, and by Thursday was saying it's impossible to defund Obama's immigration move.
Obama was due to lay out his immigration plans Thursday night, which could prompt some Republicans to make more specific calls for how to respond.