House GOP Backs Off DHS Shutdown Fight — For Now

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February 26, 2015 4:39 p.m.
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Updated: 7:15 P.M. EST

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are planning to advance a three-week stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security and punt the fight over immigration, Republican sources said Thursday.

In a change of strategy, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) presented the idea of a “continuing resolution” to members at an afternoon meeting Thursday. If Republicans fast-track their bill to the floor, it could potentially pass the House and land in the Senate ahead of the DHS funding deadline Friday at midnight.

“I am very confident we’re going to avoid a shutdown,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told TPM.

From there it would be up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) whether to bring it up. Senate Republican and Democratic leadership aides wouldn’t immediately comment on the idea. But if the alternative is a shutdown, both Republican and Democratic leaders would be hard-pressed to reject it.

Immigration hawk Rep. Steve King (R-IA) vociferously objected to the stopgap bill, claimed that Congress is “obligated by our oath” not to fund his “unconstitutional lawless act” on immigration.

“The president has thrown this all on us and thrown the country in a constitutional crisis,” he told reporters.

Other Republicans were warm to the short-term proposal.

“I’m going to be looking at it. It seems like a good alternative [to a shutdown], absolutely,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) told TPM.

The strategy would stave off a shutdown of DHS that polls say Republicans would be blamed for, but it contains downsides. It would prolong a battle that many senior Republicans privately believe they cannot win, given implacable opposition from Senate Democrats and veto threats from the White House.

House Democratic leaders will push their members to vote against the GOP’s new proposal, according to an aide, a move that could complicate Boehner’s task of securing the votes as he will lose some on his right flank.

“The House Democratic leadership is whipping against this bill,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “If House Republicans want to end up with another manufactured crisis that risks our national security in a matter of days they can do it with 218 votes of their own.”

A CR, as it’s called, would keep money flowing to DHS on autopilot, reflecting the previous year’s priorities instead of the targeted funding levels for the new year that Democrats and Republicans have agreed to. Lawmakers broadly agree it is an undesirable way to govern.

House Republicans also intend to hold a separate vote to begin conference negotiations with the Senate on a DHS bill, the leadership aide said, although Senate Democrats have said they’ll filibuster that.

For now, the Senate is operating on a separate track. On Thursday evening McConnell announced a unanimous consent agreement to hold votes Friday on a DHS appropriations bill through September, without the immigration restrictions.

The Senate’s top two immigration hard-liners, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have indicated they won’t hold up the full-year DHS bill, as they would only be delaying the inevitable.

A short-term measure would give House conservatives more time to vent and come to terms with the likely eventual surrender, but it’s not ideal for Senate Republicans, who want to put the immigration fight to rest.

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