WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will huddle with Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday evening to discuss his plans for executive action on immigration, as he prepares to defend the legality of granting deportation relief to millions of people.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing that 18 Democratic members from the House and Senate will attend dinner with the president on Wednesday evening. Republicans were not invited to attend.
Obama will address the nation about immigration at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday, and then speak about the issue again on Friday in Las Vegas.
"Everybody agrees our immigration system is broken," Obama said in a video announcing the Thursday speech. "Unfortunately, Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long. What I am going to be laying out are the things I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system work better, even as I continue to work with Congress."
Obama will have to make the case that his actions are the right move, and will likely need Democrats and immigration advocates to stand with him. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday found that 48 percent of Americans oppose Obama taking executive action, while 38 percent support it and 14 percent were unsure or had no opinion.
Earnest said the White House is expecting "a rather lengthy discussion" about executive action on immigration, and that the president "is looking forward to this debate."
"The president feels very confident both in the steps that he has taken, he also feels very confident in knowing that these steps are going to be good for the country," he said.
"This is an important step that will have a pretty profound impact on the lives of millions of people who live here," he added later.
Politico reported earlier Wednesday that the relief will apply to about 5 million undocumented immigrants, including people with long-standing ties to the country such as parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. The reprieve will not include farm workers or the parents of so-called Dreamers, undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children, according to Politico. Advocacy sources contacted by The Huffington Post said those details were consistent with that they'd heard.
Republicans have said broader deportation relief would be a radical overstep of Obama's authority. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chair the committees responsible for immigration and homeland security, sent a letter to the president on Wednesday saying that they "will be forced to use the tools afforded to Congress by the Constitution to stop your administration from successfully carrying out your plan."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the GOP will not shut down the government over immigration, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has made no such promise. He said Republicans are still considering how to respond to Obama's executive action. One option could be setting up multiple showdowns over immigration by passing only short-term funding bills. Some Republicans have also suggested delaying the confirmation process for Obama's nominees or stonewalling him in other ways.
Earnest declined to say what the president would do if he receives a government funding bill that would block executive action -- the move that could trigger a government shutdown. He said Congress is still able to pass its own immigration reform bills, and Obama would be happy to work with them.
Earnest said there is "a solid legal foundation" for Obama's actions on immigration -- something many legal experts agree with. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made the case earlier Wednesday, as he has before, that deferred action would be part of prosecutorial discretion, which is the need by law enforcement agencies to prioritize based on limited resources. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for Dreamers is based on the same grounds.
Earnest would not go into detail about the president's plans, but said they were all based on existing legal authority.
"Once we have an opportunity to talk about some of the details related to the executive action that the president has chosen to take, it will become clear that there is a solid legal authority for the president taking those actions," Earnest said.