11/22/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST

Obama and his immigration overhaul targeted by Republicans

U.S. President Barack Obama has followed through on his threat to bypass Congress and reshape the U.S. immigration system on his own, and while Republicans should have expected this to land in their court, they haven't decided yet how to respond.

Obama's executive order, announced during a speech at the White House Thursday night, will lift the threat of deportation for an estimated five million illegal immigrants.

He warned last June that he was preparing to take the step, in the absence of Congress passing a bill to deal with the problem. Knowing the measures could be unpopular in certain parts of the country, he delayed the announcement until after the midterm elections earlier this month.

While Obama was en route to Las Vegas on Friday to promote his plan in a state with a large Latino population, Republican leaders in Washington said they were mulling over what to do next. They are outraged that the president is taking a go-it-alone approach, calling it unconstitutional and an overreach of his authority, claims Obama rejects.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that in the days ahead the House will "not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk."

"We'll listen to the American people, we'll work with our members, and we will work to protect the Constitution of the United States," he said.

When pressed for details on when and how his party will respond, Boehner said Republicans are "looking at the options that are available to us," and pledged, "the House will, in fact, act."

Republicans are not united on immigration reform, which is a big challenge for Boehner and his counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, as they try to manage how to counter the president's actions.

Looking for leverage

Republicans don't want Obama to succeed with his approach, but they also can't afford to risk alienating Latino voters as the 2016 election approaches. They have to find a balance — so how far should they go in their retaliation?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of the more vocal hardliners in the party, said on Fox News that Republicans must "use every single constitutional tool we have to defend the rule of law," and called this "a moment of testing" for his party.

Cruz's punishment plan includes using the majority Republicans will have in the Senate come January to block any of Obama's nominations that must pass through there. Other than vital national security positions, all judicial and other appointees should be stalled until Obama reverses the executive order, said Cruz.

Another option that he and some other Republicans are backing is the idea of using upcoming spending bills as leverage against Obama. They say they don't want a government-wide shutdown prompted by a refusal to fund the government completely, but individual appropriation bills could be laced with riders that would limit spending on enforcing or implementing the executive order.

Congressman Steve King suggested Republicans could start with moving a resolution of disapproval and then go even further if necessary and move to censure Obama.

"That would be a strong message," he said in a video on his website.

If Obama didn't reverse the measures, King said, Republicans would have no choice but to try to shut off any funding for them. That would be the third option on a sliding scale of responses that should be on the table, according to the Iowa representative. At the end of the scale would be impeachment. King said on CNN this week that no one wants that, but he "would not rule it out."

"Stay tuned. Congress will act, we must act and we can't let this stand," King vowed.

Some urging cautious response

Suing the president is another option some Republicans say should be considered, especially given that it's a route already being taken. The party filed its promised lawsuit on Friday over executive orders Obama made to change the Affordable Care Act. Add his action on immigration to the lawsuit while we're at it, some Republicans suggest.

Other Republicans are being cautious about the various options being floated and are concerned about going too far in their responses. They know that some actions could backfire with the public, and they don't want to risk the momentum they gained from the midterm elections.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Republicans have held discussions about how to temper reactions and to find the appropriate response.

"If you overreact, it becomes about us, not President Obama," Senator Lindsey Graham said in the article.

Republicans want the White House back in 2016, and to get there they have to make some careful decisions in the next two years.

How to respond to Obama's immigration overhaul is now at the top of the list.