Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
Congressional Republicans remain sharply divided over the looming standoff over funding the Department of Homeland Security, prompting White House officials to prepare to shut down an agency designed to protect everything from the nation’s borders to the president.
With four days before the security agency’s budget lapses, Republican elder statesmen are pushing for a new strategy that does not directly link President Obama’s actions on immigration to funding for DHS. The funding has been held up in protest of Obama’s plan to allow temporary residency for more than 4 million illegal immigrants who met certain conditions.
Some Republicans have seized on last week’s ruling from a federal judge in Texas halting the implementation of the Obama orders as the way to keep up the fight without shutting down such a critical security agency.
Later Monday the Senate is expected to again fail to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the united opposition from Democrats, the fourth such roll call this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who earlier said his chamber was “stuck,” has not indicated what his next move will be. And House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has remained steadfast in declaring that the next move must come from the Senate.
The standoff has left White House officials preparing for a partial shutdown of the conglomerate domestic security agency, which, among others, includes the Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Right now that does seem to be where we’re headed,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.
Most security officers would stay on the job, unpaid, during a shutdown while tens of thousands of administrative staff would be deemed “nonessential” and furloughed until a funding deal was reached.
Senate Republicans viewed the judge’s ruling in Texas as a way to avert the showdown.
“We now have an exit sign. And that is the federal court decision saying that the president’s actions unilaterally are unconstitutional,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that the case will likely end up in the Supreme Court. “I believe we have got an option there that we should pursue.”
The ruling stalled the implementation of Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Earnest said that the White House has asked the judge to grant a stay on his order so the plan can go forward as the legal process plays out.
McCain’s comments were echoed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), but House Republicans and some Senate Republicans have been unwilling to take that approach and are instead trying to set up Democrats to receive most of the blame. On Monday all eight Virginia Republicans in the House sent a letter to the state’s two Democratic senators to help break a filibuster in the Senate to pass the GOP-drafted legislation.
“We have reached a moment of constitutional crisis,” the Republicans wrote to Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Most congressional Democrats support Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and even those opposed have said that funding DHS is too important an issue to get tied up in the fight over the president’s actions. Democrats also believe they are on sound political ground and that the blame will fall disproportionately on Republicans, as it did during the October 2013 shutdown of the entire federal government.
“It’s one of the dumbest things they can do, and it’s also one of the most dangerous things they can do,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said in an interview. “They are literally flirting with disaster.”
Senior Senate Republicans said a DHS shutdown would be a political debacle given the increased violence in the Middle East and new threats of attack against U.S. and European shopping malls. “I do believe in this time where we have the kind of threats that we have from all over the world, we certainly need to make sure that Homeland Security is fully funded. And my guess is we’ll figure out a way to make sure that happens this week,” Corker said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
“I hope my House colleagues will understand that our best bet is to challenge this in court, that if we don’t fund the Department of Homeland Security, we’ll get blamed as a party,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week”.
Outside conservative groups, including Heritage Action, have been pushing Republicans to not approve a so-called clean funding plan, demanding any DHS budget include the riders that would eliminate Obama’s orders on immigration.
So far Boehner has sided with Heritage Action and conservatives, even after the judge’s ruling last week that could tie up the issue for many months in the courts.
“Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department,” the speaker said in a statement after the ruling.
McCain said that he is “angry” over the president’s unilateral move but that Republicans are destined to be blamed for a DHS shutdown, which could undermine their broader standing on the issue.
“I remember last time we shut down the whole government,” McCain said. “This would obviously be Homeland Security. The last time we shut down the whole government, we turned away 600,000 visitors to our national parks here in Arizona. I don’t want to see that movie again.”