WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- In the first major political battle between house Republicans and the White House over President Obama's executive order deferring deportation for up to 4.1 million undocumented immigrants, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson was grilled by House Homeland Security Committee, who also heard testimony on the constitutionality of Obama's executive order.
"The reality is that, given our limited resources, these people are not -- and have not been for years -- priorities for removal," Johnson, one of the key advisers in crafting the how the executive order would be carried out, explained to the Homeland Security Committee.
"It's time we acknowledge that and encourage them to be held accountable. This is simple common sense."
Merits of the new immigration policy aside, committee Republicans took issue with the implication of the executive order, repeatedly calling it a "power grab" and claiming it fell outside the confines of acceptable executive influence.
"Rather than working constructively with the new men and women Americans elected to represent them in Congress, the President is making his relationship with Congress increasingly toxic by unconstitutionally acting on his own," remarked Comittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who compared the President to King James for disregarding parliamentarian will.
"Tragically, President Obama's shortsighted actions have further set back congressional efforts to enact legislation to reform our broken immigration system."
In addition to allegedly stifling Congress' ability to pass comprehensive immigration reform and alienating Republican leadership, the committee also questioned the legality of the executive order.
"The president cannot make a law without the consent of congress," noted Rep. Lamar Smith.
"He can't change the law but can take certain action in the law," countered Rep. Zoe Lofgren, echoing Johnson's call for congressional legislation to supersede the executive order but stressing the need for executive action until Congress acts.
The heated questioning and debate were not the only drama in the hearing -- on at least three separate occasions, multiple groups of undocumented immigrants and supporters were escorted from the room for shouting stories of marginalization and chanting "si se puede," which roughly translates to "yes we can."