The House today endorsed a lawsuit that challenges President Obama's executive actions on immigration. By a largely party-line 234-186 vote, the lawmakers authorized Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to file a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states. That suit argues the president overstepped his authority when he decided to block deportation of some four million immigrants.
Today's action is a preview of the main event in April. That's when the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments. Their ruling is expected in June, amid a presidential campaign that is already embroiled in the immigration issue.
House Republicans say the legal battle and their vote today aren't really about immigration. They say the issue is whether Obama has the power to provide what the Republicans consider to be an amnesty program to people living in this country illegally.
"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," said Ryan. "This is not a question of whether or not we are for or against a certain policy. ... It is about the integrity of the Constitution."
Democrats aren't buying that.
"Why does the Majority Party not just say what they want? They want millions of immigrants deported," said Rep. Luis Guitterez, D-Ill. "The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican Majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party."
The House vote comes after 225 Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, filed their own friend-of-the-court brief supporting the administration's position last week. But the Democrats' action didn't have the imprimatur of either chamber of Congress.
Legally speaking, what's at stake is the future of Obama's 2014 proposal called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. It would temporarily shield from deportation parents who are living here illegally but who have U.S. citizen children. Another program would expand protections for immigrants brought to this country illegally as children.
Politically, immigration has been a key issue in the 2016 presidential race. GOP front runner Donald Trump has said he favors mass deportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally, and a ban on the entry of all Muslims.
Some Republicans did not support the House friend-of-court brief. Five Republicans voted with the Democrats opposing the measure. They were Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida; Rep. Robert Dold of Illinois and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York.