Congressional GOP Leaders Figure Out How to Temporarily Tame Conservative Beast

It looks like Republican leaders in Congress have settled on a way forward that (they hope) will fund the government, avoid a shutdown controversy, and not give up the fight against Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. Here's the latest, from Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan of Politico:

Speaker John Boehner announced Tuesday in a closed Republican meeting that the House would vote to disapprove of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration this week and will vote to fund the government next week.

The two-part plan, which GOP leadership laid out Monday evening to some lawmakers, is designed to give Republicans an opportunity to express displeasure with the White House's move on immigration while avoiding a shutdown.

The disapproval of Obama's unilateral action—which states the executive branch cannot selectively enforce immigration deportation laws—won't change much, since the Senate will likely ignore it.

The plan was inspired by two conservative lawmakers: Florida Rep. Ted Yoho and Georgia Rep. Tom Price. The government funding portion would keep most of the government open until September 2015 but would only supply monies to the Department of Homeland Security until March. Government funding runs out Dec. 11.

It's interesting that this plan was "inspired," whatever that means, by Ted Yoho and Tom Price. Price is an extremely conservative Republican, but nonetheless one who resides on Planet Earth. Yoho, on the other hand, is—how can I put this gently?—kind of a lunatic (birtherism is just the beginning with him). If they both support this plan, it's a good bet that the eternally restive tea partiers will be willing to go along with it.

There are actually three parts: fund the government through the end of the fiscal year (until October 2015), fund the Department of Homeland Security through March, and pass a resolution condemning President Obama's immigration action. That means there will be opportunities for symbolic fist-shaking now, and a renewal of the same argument in a couple of months. The leadership may have solved the puzzle of how to convince their conservatives that they're fighting Obama with sufficient fury: stretch out the battle.

The truth is that a lot of this is a kind of kabuki. Boehner and Mitch McConnell know that they aren't going to be able to reverse Obama's immigration order, at least until there's a Republican president (and maybe not even then). But conservatives need to feel like they're fighting for something real. By funding the DHS only until March, they're promising those conservatives a future battle, even if the chances that it will actually result in a reversal of the order are slim to none. Even if they end up capitulating in March, they may stretch it out even further—agree to fund the department for a few more months, and tell the conservatives that they've lived to fight another day.

As for the resolution of condemnation, it doesn't have any practical effect, but at least it's something they can do now (recall that the House passed a resolution condemning Obama once before, over the Bowe Bergdahl deal). And to be honest, I'm all for it.

Congress has every right to express its disapproval of a regulatory action taken by the president. We tend to look on the symbolic things Congress does, like congratulating the U.S. water polo team on their recent victory over Slovakia or declaring Canker Sore Awareness Week, as useless. But if nothing else they do establish a record expressing the body's sentiments, which may not be much, but it's more than nothing. When it comes to disapproving of a regulatory action, the only practical options are passing legislation to revoke it (which they can't do because Obama would veto it), filing a lawsuit, or winning the next presidential election, after which your party will be in control of the executive branch and you can shape the regulatory state more to your liking.

So in the meantime, Republicans have decided to make a statement now, and prepare for a battle in a few months that they're almost certainly going to lose. Sounds like a plan.