WASHINGTON — Stalemate in the war over President Barack Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration has put the Republican-led Congress on a path to partially shutting down the Department of Homeland Security on February 27.
With just five legislative days to go before the funding deadline, the House and Senate are at a standstill and there are growing signs that Congress won’t act in time.
Here are five reasons why.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is standing firmly with conservative hardliners who refuse to support anything that funds Obama’s actions to shield nearly 5 million people from the threat of deportation. On Thursday, he wouldn’t rule out a partial government shutdown, and said repeatedly the House had “done its job” by passing a bill to block Obama’s actions and fund DHS.
“But for Senate Democrats to simply block debate on a bill that funds many of their own priorities is as senseless and undemocratic as it is,” Boehner told reporters. “If funding for Homeland Security lapses, Washington Democrats are going to bear the responsibility.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) called it a “constitutional crisis” and said that if Republicans back down the “uproar” from conservatives would be greater than it was during the 2013 battle over Obamacare that led to a 16-day shutdown. Conservatives say that they’re on firmer ground now than in 2013 because Obamacare was at least a duly-enacted law, while Obama’s immigration moves were done by executive authority.
Senate Democrats have thrice filibustered the House-passed bill and insist they won’t allow anything other than a “clean” measure to fund DHS, without the immigration provisions. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has admitted the obvious: the Senate is “stuck.”
“There is an easy way out of this unnecessary drama: Senator McConnell should heed the calls from Republicans and Democrats to take up the clean Homeland Security funding bill, pass it and move on,” Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said Thursday.
Reid’s unyielding position is backed by the centrist Democrats who objected to Obama acting alone on immigration, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Manchin told TPM he’d vote to unwind Obama’s executive actions as a standalone bill, but not as part of DHS funding.
“If it’s concerning immigration … put your concerns about the president’s action and I’ll vote on that. I’m not gonna play politics with Homeland Security. And I feel strongly about it,” Manchin told TPM. “Enough with the politics.”
In a sign that they’re bracing for a shutdown, Republicans are seeking to calm nerves by arguing that if the Department of Homeland Security runs out of money on February 27, it won’t fully stop functioning. While thousands of workers would be furloughed, tens of thousands of essential security personnel would still be required to work and receive back pay once DHS is fully funded.
“I can’t really predict” what will happen, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a top target of Democrats in 2016, told TPM on Wednesday. “I do know the department won’t shut down. No matter what happens, the department won’t shut down.”
In an ironic twist, one agency that would be largely unaffected by a DHS funding lapse is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which is funded predominantly by user fees and tasked with processing Obama’s work permits for undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would suffer a hit as they rely on appropriations.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a leader of the fight against Obama’s actions, rebuffed House Republicans’ calls to gut the filibuster to help advance their bill in the Senate.
“I think the Senate rules wisely protect the minority,” he said Thursday. “The answer, I believe, is not to change the Senate rules. The answer is for Senate Democrats not to be obstructionists.”
Freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) also dismissed that idea. “I don’t think that’s an option we’re looking at now,” he said.
Of course, the filibuster isn’t the GOP’s biggest problem — Obama’s veto pen is. He has repeatedly threatened to veto any bill that unwinds his immigration actions.
Lawmakers are slated to leave town for a week on Friday without any viable plan that can pass both chambers of Congress, let alone gain Obama’s signature. When they return, on Tuesday, February 24, there will be four working days left before a shutdown. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers and senior aides surveyed by TPM suggested there was no fallback plan.