House Speaker John Boehner is promising a fight on immigration that has the potential to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.
The Ohio Republican signaled on Thursday that the new GOP Congress will use the DHS funding bill, which expires at the end of February, to undo President Barack Obama’s executive actions to halt deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.
“Republicans are in agreement that this is a gravely serious matter,” he told reporters. “The president’s unilateral actions were an affront to the rule of law and our system of government. The American people don’t support it, and as their representatives [we] cannot let it stand.”
The White House has repeatedly said Obama would veto legislation that reverses his executive actions, unveiled on November 20. Republicans resisted pressure from the right to fight Obama during the lame duck session and instead postponed the battle to the new year.
“I said we’d fight it tooth and nail when we had new majorities in the House and Senate, and I meant it,” Boehner said on Thursday.
Republicans haven’t settled on a strategy yet but they hope to bring their proposal to the House floor next week before going on their annual retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“It’s being discussed,” House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) told TPM. “We’re going to fight the executive amnesty with all we have.”
It’s a tricky process for Republicans, but here’s how it could work. First the House would pass a bill to renew DHS funding with an add-on to prohibit the department from using funds to process work permits for people in the U.S. illegally. Then the Senate would take up the bill, hoping to win over enough Democrats to secure 60 votes and defeat an expected filibuster. That’s uncertain. But if the legislation passes both chambers, Obama would likely veto it. Then Republicans would have to decide whether to stand firm or back down. If neither side blinks, DHS funding would run out on Feb. 27.
Boehner didn’t say if the House would stand by a DHS funding bill that defunds the immigration actions in the event that the Senate fails to pass it.
“I don’t believe the funding of the department is in fact at risk,” he said. “What is at risk is the rule of law.”
Given Obama’s commitment to his immigration changes, it is a risky battle for Republicans to wage, and could backfire if DHS ends up shutting down just two months into their tenure controlling both chambers of Congress. Top Republicans are insisting that DHS will be funded, particularly in the wake of the searing terrorist attack on a satirical publication in Paris, making it unclear how far the party is willing to go in using it as a pawn in the immigration fight.
“At the end of the day,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), “we’re going to fund the department, obviously.”