Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee said the Senate should begin debate on the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that recently passed the House of Representatives.  He said the debate would give senators the opportunity to weigh in on President Obama’s executive action.

I am ready – indeed, I am eager – to begin this debate,” said Sen. Lee. “Not just because we have only twenty-five days before the current budget authority for DHS expires. But also because this debate will finally allow the American people to see where their elected representatives in the Senate stand on President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration.”

Polls have shown that the American people oppose not only the result of the President’s action that would give work permits to millions of illegal aliens, but they also oppose the way Obama ignored the Constitution and went around Congress to change immigration law.

“Even those who agree with the president on the underlying policy disagree with him on the process, “ Lee argued. “According to one poll, when asked if the president should ‘sidestep Congress and act on his own using executive orders,’ only 22% of the public said that he should. In other words, the American people know what our president seems to have forgotten: that in a constitutional republic the ends don’t justify the means.”

Senate Republicans are set to vote on beginning debate on the DHS funding bill tomorrow, though several Senate Democrats have vowed to block debate. 

“Some have said that we shouldn’t be debating the president’s executive action on immigration right now. They say it has nothing to do with funding the operations of the Department of Homeland Security. To this I have a simple reply: ‘if not now, then when?’”

“The truth is that now is the perfect time – because it’s the only time – for us to have a meaningful debate on the president’s executive action on immigration,” Lee said.

Senator Lee’s full remarks (As prepared for delivery):

Mr./Madam President, tomorrow afternoon the Senate will vote to begin consideration of H.R. 240 – a bill that authorizes funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through September of this year.

This is a procedural vote, not a substantive one. The only question on the table is whether or not the Senate is ready to begin debating H.R. 240?

Well, Mr./Madam President, I am ready – indeed, I am eager – to begin this debate. Not just because we have only twenty-five days before the current budget authority for DHS expires. But also because this debate will finally allow the American people to see where their elected representatives in the Senate stand on President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration.

Mr./Madam President, the legislature is the only lawmaking branch in our government because it’s the only deliberative branch in our government. 

Before Congress enacts a piece of legislation, we first debate the merits of that legislation – weighing the pros and cons, in a candid and transparent discussion, and allowing the various sides of the issue to make their case.

Open, robust debate is not incidental to the lawmaking process – it is the essence of the lawmaking process. It’s the only way for members of Congress to fully explore the costs and consequences of a policy. And it’s the only way for the American people to know where their elected officials stand on an issue and why.

When the president announced in November of last year that he was going to singlehandedly rewrite our immigration laws, he short-circuited this process of debate and deliberation that’s at the heart of our constitutional lawmaking process.   

His announcement showed us what it looks like when one person ignores the limits of his office and claims the power to change the law all on his own. Policies are written behind closed doors, in consultation with lawyers and special interest groups, rather than the American people. And the law is pronounced from behind a podium – as a fait accompli – rather than discussed in an open and fair contest of ideas.

This, Mr./Madam President, is not how our democracy works. And it is not what the American people expect from their elected officials.

Indeed, poll after poll shows that most people disapprove of the president’s executive action on immigration. Even those who agree with the president on the underlying policy disagree with him on the process.

According to one poll, when asked if the president should [QUOTE] “sidestep Congress and act on his own using executive orders,” only 22% of the public said that he should.

In other words, the American people know what our president seems to have forgotten: that in a constitutional republic the ends don’t justify the means.

The American people oppose lawmaking by fiat not out of some abstract loyalty to the separation of powers. Rather, they understand that when a president sidesteps Congress and avoids open, robust debate on a policy, it’s probably because the public won’t like the substance of that policy.

This is certainly what we’ve seen in the aftermath of the president’s executive orders on immigration. The more that people discover about the content and the consequences of his policy, the less they like it.

For instance, the president claimed that his executive order would honor the golden rule of American exceptionalism – that “if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.”

But we now know that his plan subverts this basic bargain, by paving a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants who have broken the rules and violated the law, and by granting them work permits and benefits, like Social Security and Medicare.

Likewise, we were told that the president’s executive order would make our immigration system more fair and more functional for everyone.

But we now know that his plan will only exacerbate the problems in our labor market for American workers, by giving more power and more money to the dysfunctional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – this is the agency within DHS that was recently reported to have given over 900,000 work permits to illegal immigrants since 2009.

And we know that, unless we do something to stop it, the president’s executive order will go into effect at a time when all net jobs growth in our economy since 2007 has gone to immigrants.

Mr./Madam President, these are the kinds of facts and figures that ought to inform the lawmaking process, not be treated as an afterthought.

Last November the president may have chosen to ignore these facts and to circumvent debate, but that doesn’t mean we must respond in kind.

On the contrary, I believe we have an obligation to make every effort to ensure that lawmaking by edict does not become the new normal in this country.

Beginning debate on this bill will give us the opportunity to do just that.

Some have said that we shouldn’t be debating the president’s executive action on immigration right now. They say it has nothing to do with funding the operations of the Department of Homeland Security. To this I have a simple reply: “if not now, then when?”

If we don’t debate the legality of the president’s executive orders when we are in the process of authorizing money to the department that is tasked with carrying out those orders, then when exactly will we have that debate?

The truth is that now is the perfect time – because it’s the only time – for us to have a meaningful debate on the president’s executive action on immigration.

At any other point, our debate is merely hypothetical. Now is the time, when we are exercising our constitutional power of the purse, that our debate has consequences.

The power of the purse is the power to allocate money to fund government operations, as well as the power to withhold money from improper or illegitimate government operations. It’s what enables Congress – and only Congress – to reform dysfunctional government.

We like to talk about the power of the purse as a tool that Congress can use to check and balance the excesses of an overbearing president.

And that’s absolutely true. But first and foremost it’s a tool for members of Congress to represent the interests of our constituents and fix what’s broken in our government.

Our Constitution grants the legislature the power of the purse not simply to achieve some abstract equilibrium or balance of power, but to compel the national government to represent the American people and be faithful stewards of taxpayer money.

Mr./Madam President, at the end of November last year, President Obama made his choice, now it’s time for us to make ours.

The president chose to sidestep Congress, avoid debate, and rewrite our immigration laws on his own. Now we must decide: are we going to be a deliberative body or are we going to be a rubberstamp for the president’s agenda?

Are we going to acquiesce to an executive disregards the boundaries of his office, or are we going to stand up for the rule of law and the will of the people?

I hope my colleagues will join me in voting to begin debate on H.R. 240. This is a debate that the American people have been waiting for Congress to have for far too long.