Some of the nation's largest business groups say they are likely to back President Obama's plans to take executive action on a new comprehensive immigration policy, a further sign of the widening fracture between the Republican Party and one of its biggest groups of supporters.
"We believe that if he has the authority to do something, then of course he can go ahead with moving that," said Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy at the National Restaurant Association. The association and other business groups have been meeting with the White House privately to work out a plan as Obama prepares to announce a move by the end of the summer.
"Increasing the legal labor workforce is something we are going to support nine times out of 10," Amador said.
Revelations of the private meetings have left Republican immigration critics fuming.
"The same group of CEOs who helped write the Senate’s Gang of Eight immigration bill in secret is now scheming with the White House to extract by executive fiat what was denied to them by the American people and Congress," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Most business groups have long favored pro-immigration policies, arguing they benefit the economy overall by expanding the labor pool. Critics contend they just want the cheaper labor the policies would bring.
The issue has been a sore spot with many of business' traditional allies within the Republican Party. It comes at a time when the GOP is pulling away from business on other issues too, largely due to the rise of its Tea Party wing. The movement emerged largely in reaction to the federal bailouts in 2009 and has made attacking "crony capitalism" one of its goals.
Reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, usually an easy bipartisan vote, has become a pitched battle due to opposition from Tea Party Republicans. Similar opposition has stalled reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. Last year, business groups vehemently opposed Tea Party Republicans such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz when they acted to put the federal debt limit at stake.
On immigration, the business lobbies counter that they are just advising the president on how to use his existing executive authority, though they concede that sometimes that involves new interpretations of that power.
"The Chamber is assessing what we think the agencies can do, but nothing is set," said Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Holmes.
She added that a new immigration policy instituted by Obama wouldn't necessarily qualify as an "executive action." Agencies could simply broaden existing policy. Holmes said the Department of Homeland Security could, for example, expand existing policies on high-tech visas to give spouses of immigrants the opportunity to work.
"There is a difference between 'executive action' and 'agency action,' " Holmes said.
For most Republicans that will likely be a difference without distinction.
"A sweeping amnesty decree proclaimed by the president without the backing of Congress would justifiably deepen conservative lawmakers' distrust of Big Business and fuel even more vigorous right-wing populism," said Matt Vadum, senior editor at the conservative Capital Research Center. "It would be the Tea Party on steroids."