Rep. Henry Cuellar discusses controversy over expected executive action

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," November 18, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The problem is that, you know, I'm the president of the United States. I'm not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.


MEGYN KELLY, HOST: That was President Obama in 2013 saying he's not emperor. Fast forward to 2014 and the President could be just days if not hours away from executive action that would allow millions of illegal immigrants who broke the law stay right here in the United States. All at the stroke of a pen. Does that then mean that the President views his job differently today? Here's the White House briefing just a few hours ago.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: So when the President said that expanding docket to apply to the parents of the Dreamers, for instance, would be broadening and essentially ignoring the law in a way that would be difficult to defend legally that it's not an option, that that statement is no longer operating.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, what I'm saying is, we'll have an opportunity to evaluate the actions that the President has chosen to take after he's announced.

KARL: But I'm not asking about the options. I'm just saying, does the President still stand by what he said in that interview in September of last year?

EARNEST: Well, Jon, obviously there are some things that have changed.


KELLY: Some things have changed. Joining us now, radio talk show host Laura Ingraham who is host of the Laura Ingraham Show and Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar who is from the border state of Texas and is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. We begin with the congressman. Sir, thank you very much for being here.


KELLY: This is my first question. First of all, do you agree with the original statement by President Obama that his powers are limited and there are many things he cannot do by executive order when it comes to granting relief to illegal immigration or illegal immigrants?

CUELLAR: The president sure has changed his mind about what he can do and what he can do now. I'm just basing it on what I've seen other presidents in the past do. The topic of executive orders, you know for example, Ronald Reagan and President Bush one also used the executive orders right after the 1986 law where certain people were going to be deported where they also allow a reprieve. They didn't impose the classification but to allow a reprieve from deportation.


KELLY: Let me ask you about that. I have looked at that. I have looked at that. And you are right that past presidents including Reagan and Bush the elder used some executive actions to allow some relief. But nothing, nothing anywhere near this size or scope. The largest was 1.5 million. We're talking about 5 million now with President Obama, which is almost half of the illegal immigrants in the country right now. That takes it to a new level, does it not?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, certainly, if you do an executive order and it covers 40 percent at that time, I think under Bush, it would have covered 40 percent, which was 1.5 million of what was that. Now they're talking about 40 percent, which is the larger amount. But again, you either do it or don't do it. The scope of it doesn't really matter.

KELLY: The scope doesn't matter?


CUELLAR: What matters is do you have the executive order. But again, I have to tell you, Megyn, I prefer -- personally, I prefer that we do a bipartisan legislative approach for both Democrats and Republicans, sit down together like President Reagan and the Democrats did in 1986.

KELLY: OK, so here's my question for you. There's a reason that the people of your district elected you and sent you to congress, to be their voice, right?

CUELLAR: That's right.

KELLY: OK. So everyone else has one of those as well. We all have a congressman. We all sent them to office. They were asked do you support a bipartisan bill that came over to you that the U.S. Senate and the house said no. Doesn't your voice count? Doesn't the House of Representatives matter anymore? Can the president just with the stroke of a pen do what he wants to do, even though the house considered it, the people -- the people's representatives said no, you don't have the support for this and we vote it down, Mr. President.

CUELLAR: Well, you know, certainly, my district, I represent four border counties. They supported me 88 percent, 97 percent, 95 percent, 93 percent of the borders areas overall, almost 83 percent, so my district that supported me feel that I'm doing a good job, and I want to come up here and do my best job.

KELLY: I know.

CUELLAR: Working in a bipartisan way.

KELLY: And I support your willingness to engage in a bipartisan process. I think all the viewers do. But when the bipartisan process doesn't work out in your favor, right, when it plays out honestly and the votes just aren't there for your side, why is it OK for the executives to step in and say I'm doing what I want. And I really don't give a fig about what half of the House of Representatives want or doesn't want or, for that matter, half of the American people want or doesn't want. There's a new USA Today poll out saying out 46 percent of the people say President Obama should not do this. He should wait until Congress agrees or passes legislation, 42 percent says act now. So the more people want him not to do it. You have the people's representatives saying don't do it in the House and you have the people themselves saying don't do it directly. Why on earth should he do this?

CUELLAR: You know, in a very eerie way when President Reagan was the president, the Senate had passed an immigration bill. The house did not pass it. So he then took the executive order, same facts.


KELLY: That bill was going to pass, though. It did pass later.

CUELLAR: Again, let me finish here. So Megyn, what he did is same thing, Senate passed the bill, House didn't. He took an executive order.

Now, if the president takes an executive order, President Obama, then why not have Congress come back and pass and do the same thing that the House did back in -- when President Reagan was in power?

KELLY: You know what? I appreciate your perspective. Thank you so much for being here with us.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much, Megyn.

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