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Could Republicans ‘Defund’ Obama’s Immigration Order?

Republicans fuming over Obama’s immigration plan 2:04

With Republicans livid over the president’s executive action to curb deportations, some are calling for a measure to deny the administration funding to carry it out.

But, according the top Republican in charge of deploying the House's power of the purse, that probably won’t work.

"The primary agency for implementing the President's new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),” said House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers in a statement Thursday. “This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the "E-Verify" program. Therefore, the Appropriations process cannot be used to "de-fund" the agency. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new Executive Order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown."

In other words, the agency would manage the newly eligible undocumented. The only way to defund USCIS would be to pass a separate law — something politically unpalatable and impossible to pass in the United States Senate.

(Some Republicans think that Rogers is incorrect. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the most outspoken opponent of comprehensive immigration reform, said of Rogers’ assessment “I don’t believe that.”)

One Family's 30-Year Wait for Immigration Reform 1:39

Still, the likely strategic roadblock means that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority (soon-to-be-Majority) Leader Mitch McConnell will have to get creative to placate conservatives who want to block the immigration action entirely. A complicating factor? A spending bill must be passed by both chambers by December 11 to avoid a government shutdown, something that some conservatives say must be threatened in light of the president’s aggressive action on immigration.

Leadership sources tell NBC News that "there are a few options on the table” and that Boehner “is continuing to float some of the ideas and get feedback from members."

Some of those options: 1) Boehner could order the House counsel to sue Obama and claim executive overreach, thus sending this issue to the courts. 2) Boehner could pass a bill saying the House disapproves of the executive action, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could let that come up for a vote in the Senate. 3) The House could pass a year-long government funding bill and then try to strip out other funds related to this executive action next year, when Republicans have more power.

It's unclear what path they will choose right now. But with the clock ticking towards another possible government shutdown, GOP brass must decide on a strategy in the coming weeks.

Alex Moe of NBC News contributed to this report.