By: Robert Costa (Washington Post)

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) winced as he listened to comments from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in reaction to President Obama’s plans to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

“Unfortunate, unfair, unnecessary, unwise,” Graham said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bachmann, a retiring tea-party firebrand, had declared that those immigrants covered by the policies that the president would announce Thursday would become “illiterate” voters.

For Republicans the roiling debate over the president’s decision is not only a fight with the White House, but a test of whether they can contain some of the unhelpful passions among their swelling majorities in both chambers. The task is keeping on-message and away from the controversial and sometimes offensive comments that have traditionally hindered attempts to bolster support for the party among Hispanics.

Coupled with the desire to avoid the heated rhetoric is an effort to avert another showdown over government funding, weeks after the GOP made gains in the midterm elections and a year after a 16-day shutdown significantly damaged the party’s brand.

Ahead of the president’s prime-time address Thursday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will be the majority leader in the next Congress, were grappling with these swirling issues, urging calm in their ranks and considering several moves they believe would be forceful responses to the president, while also keeping the government funded.

Filing a lawsuit over the president’s executive authority, pursuing standalone legislation on immigration policy and removing funding for immigration agencies are some of the ideas that have been floated by aides to Republican leaders.

“We are considering a variety of options,” McConnell said Thursday in a floor speech. He suggested that his preference would be for Republicans to avoid becoming mired in a fiscal clash during the lame-duck session, shortly before the GOP takes control of the Senate.