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Obama Plans To Use Executive Action To Reshape Immigration


President Obama said he will take executive action on immigration by the end of the year, and there isn't much time left. Now there are reports he could act as soon as the end of next week, giving legal status and protection from deportation to as many as 5 million people currently living in the U.S. illegally. With more on this, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's as the capital. Hey there, Tamara.


CORNISH: What more have you heard about the timing of this executive action?

KEITH: Well, those reports that you mentioned say that he could act as soon as next Friday. But the White House isn't confirming that. The president is actually currently in Asia on a trip that will last through Sunday. And he's unlikely to make a final decision before returning to the U.S. Press Secretary Josh Earnest is traveling with the president, and he was asked about the timing.


JOSH EARNEST: The president has not made a final decision, at this point, about exactly what will be included in the administrative steps that he will take to try to address some of the problems associated with our broken immigration system.

KEITH: But he said the president is nearing a final decision.

CORNISH: Tamara, give us a little more context. I mean, what should we make of this timing? What other considerations are there for the White House?

KEITH: Well, I have two dates for you. And they are no doubt highlighted on the calendar of the president's political team as well. The first is December 6. That is the date of the Louisiana Senate runoff election. And the president may not want to take action before that election because Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is already in a very tough race. And he may not want to be seen sinking her chances. The second date is December 11. That's the date the current, temporary bill to keep the government funded and open for business expires. I spoke with Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, who actually agrees with the president on much of the policy. But he says executive action now, before the new Congress is in place and has had a chance to try on its own, would be a mistake.

CONGRESSMAN MARIO DIAZ-BALART: It would be pretty clear that then, what he is trying to do is blow this whole thing up - is just, you know, implode Congress. If the president were to do something unilaterally, something that big and controversial, it would potentially be the most divisive thing that anyone could do.

KEITH: Now, obviously, everyone knows that the president is planning to do this. He's said that many times. But if he does it, when he does it, Republicans are no doubt going to have an emotional, visceral reaction. And some on the far right would be expected to push to demand that something be attached to this must-pass government funding bill to block the president.

CORNISH: Once you talk about must-pass bills, you're talking about risk of a government shutdown - right? - even though incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's already ruled that out.

KEITH: Yes. And he was asked today, if the president acted in the coming days on immigration, would he change his position. And he repeated twice, quote, "we will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt." But when House Speaker John Boehner later in the afternoon was asked about it, he said House Republicans would fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: All the options are on the table. We're having discussions with our members. And there are no decisions been made as to how we will fight this if he proceeds.

KEITH: One of those options would be attaching something to that must-pass spending bill that would block the president's action. But during this lame-duck session, the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, and they would reject that. So there could be a standoff, potentially, like the one last year that shut the government down. But I have to say, I still get the impression from leaders in the House and the Senate that they just want to avoid that kind of drama.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.