House Republicans are engaged in a high-stakes internal debate and political game of dare with President Obama over immigration reform -- with the threat of another government shutdown resurfacing.
The president is expected by as early as next week to announce executive action on U.S. immigration law that would protect roughly 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, change federal law-enforcement programs and expand business visas for non-citizens.
Obama made clear in the immediate aftermath of the Nov. 4 elections -- in which Republicans won control of the Senate and added to their House majority -- that he would move immediately on immigration, saying he has waited too long for the GOP House to act.
Republican leaders in turned warned Obama that taking executive action, particularly before they control the Senate next year, would be a bad idea.
House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday repeated his early warnings that Obama is “playing with fire” and that “executive amnesty” will keep immigration reform from getting enacted during his final six years in the White House and will jeopardize his other legislative priorities.
However, some of the most conservative House Republicans in recent days have raised the specter of using upcoming, must-pass spending bills to block Obama from acting.
They are considering passing a temporary spending bill into next year when Republicans control the Senate to try to see if they can use their grip on the purse strings to gain leverage over the president.
Pragmatists in the caucus are warning loudly that such an approach could result in a government shutdown because Obama would likely veto the bill.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., thinks Obama boldly announcing imminent executive action just one day after big election losses was an attempt to lure Republicans into a political trap.
“A lot of people on our side think that he’s intentionally trying to bait us into some sort of fight,” Cole told Fox News on Friday.
Cole said he wasn’t in favor of shutting down the government. But at least some House Republicans appear unconcerned about a possible shutdown and the potential backlash.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he wants to keep open the option of using “the power of the purse to restrain a president who has threatened to violate the Constitution in the most obscene manner possible."
King also argues the GOP's success in the midterms proves the party wasn't hurt by the 2013 partial government shutdown, in an unsuccessful effort to "defund" ObamaCare.
"We picked up beaucoup seats in the House and won the vast majority in the Senate. Where's the political penalty for doing the right and just and responsible thing?" King said.
Other options include suing the president to overturn his action or passing a stand-alone bill to try to stop him.
Some are pushing for House Republicans to write their own immigration bill to show they are serious about acting and pre-empt Obama.
But it's not clear that any of the options will be enough to deflate the brewing efforts to use the spending bills to try to block Obama from acting.
Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will take over as majority leader come January, both are intent upon avoiding a shutdown.
They are joined by several rank-and-file members including Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent.
"Shutting the government down would only serve the president's interests and we shouldn't take the bait," he said.
And immigration advocates doubt the lower chamber will arrive at a bill that could pass the Senate and that Obama would sign.
The Democrat-controlled Senate last year passed bipartisan, comprehensive reform legislation, which includes a pathway to citizenship for most of the 11.5 million people in the country illegally.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is exploring options including a lawsuit to stop Obama on immigration, aides said. House Republicans already have announced a lawsuit against Obama over his health care plan but have not yet filed it, so it could be expanded to include immigration.
Some on the right have gone so far as to suggest that Obama should be impeached if he takes unilateral action on immigration, but few if any in the House view that as a viable option, even if they think it might be merited.
"Doing something that's an impeachable offense and getting impeached are two different things," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who's leading the conservative effort to include language in must-pass spending bills to try to block Obama from acting. "Impeachment's not going to be on the table."
Meanwhile there's debate within the White House on whether Obama should announce the immigration decision as early as next week when he returns from a trip in Asia, or wait until Congress finishes work on a government-funding bill that must be done by the time an existing one expires Dec. 11.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that "I'd like to get the finances of this country out of the way" before Obama acts. But his office provided a statement from him Friday to clarify that Congress must act to fund the government "regardless of when the president acts to provide relief to families."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.