Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will assume the top job in the chamber in January, took the mic on Capitol Hill Thursday at a press conference and appeared to recognize what is at stake. The leader said he was "disturbed" by the president's posturing since Republicans captured the majority in the Senate. Still, with his own agenda in mind, the pragmatic and shrewd 30-year Senate veteran promised that under no circumstances would executive action on immigration derail his vow to make the Senate work again. He pledged to pass a funding bill to keep the government open by the Dec. 11 deadline.
"We will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt," McConnell said.
Across the Capitol, however, House Speaker John Boehner, who led his conference through a shutdown over health care in 2013, struck a much more combative tone.
"All of the options are on the table," he said. "We're going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path."
Boehner says he will take the temperature of his members in the upcoming days, a signal that he may be more willing than McConnell to engage in a showdown with the White House over immigration. Nearly 60 House Republicans have signed a letter calling for the next funding bill to include a provision that would "prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions" on immigration. Even if such language passed the Senate, Obama would likely veto it.
Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says Republicans must take bold actions now to assert their abilities as leaders.
"You cannot allow this president, or any other president, to act unilaterally on an issue when he does not have the authority," Tyler said. "If Congress wants to cede the authority, it will be applied to the next issue and the next issue."
Some House Republicans including Rep. Steve King of Iowa, have even hinted that they'd like to move forward with impeaching Obama if he takes executive action on immigration.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, told Newsmax TV that "impeachment is indicting in the House, and that's a possibility."
Some Republican aides have floated the idea of passing a clean funding bill in December and then using the tedious appropriations process in 2015 to keep Obama from carrying out his executive action. But the president would never sign those funding bills, putting the country, once again, on the path to a shutdown.
"I think it is dangerous for Republicans to try and withhold funding or play with anything that can lead to a government shutdown," says John Feehery, a GOP strategist who was a spokesman for then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Feehery says shutting the government down over immigration could hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters as the party sets its sights on the White House in 2016. Instead of digging in against executive action, he says it's time that the party "takes this as an opportunity" to come up with its own plan.