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Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Tuesday pressed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on whether President Barack Obama changed the law to enact his recent immigration reforms.
Johnson said it was clear he did not.
"We did not change the law," he insisted. "We acted within the law."
And then the Utah Republican pounced.
"Can you play the clip?" Chaffetz asked the Homeland Security Committee staff, teeing up a short video of Obama speaking only days before at a rally in Nevada.
"But what you're not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law," Obama says in the video played for the audience at the committee hearing.
"So you say he didn't change the law, but the president says he changed the law?" Chaffetz asked again, forcefully.
Johnson didn't flinch.
"He acted within existing law," the secretary shot back. "He acted within our existing legal authority. Listen, I've been a lawyer 30 years. Somebody plays me an eight-word excerpt from a broader speech; I know it to be suspicious."
The exchange highlights the sometimes-tense hearing held by the GOP-led Homeland Security Committee and the administration's point man on protecting the homeland, including overseeing security involving illegal border crossings.
Chaffetz recently was named incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has become a primary administration scandal-investigation platform for the Republican-controlled House.
Several of Chaffetz's colleagues joined in Tuesday's Homeland Security grilling, criticizing Obama for taking executive action to allow millions of immigrants to stay in the country and apply for guest-worker status and expanding protections against deportation to those brought to the country in their youth.
"We are a nation of laws, yet this unprecedented executive power grab undermines the principle that the people, not just one man, should be the ultimate decision makers in our country's most important political matters," Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in opening Tuesday's hearing.
"He crossed a line with constitutional separation of powers," added Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn.
House Republicans plan to approve a resolution as early as Thursday declaring that the president does not have the authority to take the executive action he did on immigration, according to The New York Times. But the vote is expected to be largely symbolic with almost certain refusal by the Democrat-controlled Senate to take up the resolution.
Johnson noted that presidents have for decades used executive authority to act on immigration policy, and, while Obama's actions are a good first step, he wants Congress to pass comprehensive reform to fix the rest of the problem. Johnson said he'd work with Congress if its members would work with him to help immigrants who are not a threat to their country or community.
"The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not, and have not been for years, priorities for removal." Johnson said. "It's time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable. This is simple common sense."