The Senate moved late Friday to try to pull the Department of Homeland Security back from the brink of a partial shutdown after the House failed to pass a 20-day stopgap funding bill, hurtling the agency toward a critical midnight deadline.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared on the Senate floor just before 8:30 p.m. to announce a one-week stopgap bill that was passed by a voice vote. Senior Republicans held out hope the House would follow suit before the looming shutdown deadline.
The House vote was a stunning failure for a bill that was a last-ditch attempt to keep DHS running as the Senate and House remained at odds over a longer-term bill. The defeat was a major blow to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), whose struggles to get unruly members to fall in line have continued in the new Congress. More broadly, it was an early black eye for the unified Republican majority that had vowed to govern effectively.
All but a dozen Democrats who voted rejected the measure, as did 52 Republicans, in a tense procedure that stretched on for more than 40 minutes. Democrats have demanded a long-term funding bill that does not go after President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Republicans want to use the DHS debate to fight Obama on immigration.
Boehner hoped to give lawmakers more time to break that impasse with his stopgap bill, which the Senate signaled it would pass if the House did. But his plans were spoiled once again, mostly by a faction of rogue conservatives at odds with his strategy.
“Our leadership set the stage for this,” complained Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who voted against the measure and argued that last year’s debate over funding the entire federal government was the time and place to do battle with the president. “That’s where we had the best chance and opportunity.”
In November, Obama announced the executive actions granting temporary relief from deportation to more than 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. Republicans accused him of overstepping his legal authority.
House Democrats rallied against the bill Friday, arguing that a delay would only put off the inevitable: another 11th-hour standoff on March 19 and pressure from them to pass a “clean” bill with no immigration provisions.
“The bullet must get bit by Boehner,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who represents a long stretch of the nation’s border with Mexico and who voted no. “It either gets bit tonight . . . or it gets bit in three weeks.”
After the vote, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) took to the House floor to announce that additional votes were possible later Friday or over the weekend.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called on House Republicans to take up a bill the Senate passed Friday morning that would fund DHS through September and would not touch Obama’s immigration directives.
“Now is the time to drop the partisan political games and come together to avoid a Homeland Security shutdown for the good of our country,” he said.
The House has so far resisted that bill. It passed its own measure weeks ago that would fund DHS for the same period and that would also undo Obama’s immigration actions. Senate Democrats have blocked that bill.
The House passed a measure Friday afternoon to go to conference with the Senate to hash out the differences between their long-term bills. No Democrats voted for it. Senate Democrats oppose a conference.
The stopgap bill seemed to many to be the last best option of avoiding a partial shutdown. Senate Democratic aides acknowledged that the bill would probably have passed their chamber if it had cleared the House. White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday that Obama would sign a short-term bill, even though he would prefer a lengthier one.
“If the president is faced with a choice of having the Department of Homeland Security shut down or fund that department for a short term, the president is not going to allow the agency to shut down,” Earnest said.
As it braced for a potential shutdown, DHS issued a 46-page document Friday titled “Procedures Relating to a Lapse in Appropriations.” Nonessential DHS employees would begin facing furloughs if the agency were to partially shutter. In attempts to pressure Republicans to pass a “clean” long-term funding bill, Democrats have routinely invoked the threat of the Islamic State and other dangers the United States is confronting.
Signs emerged early in the day that Boehner was having trouble getting the votes he needed. He summoned his top lieutenants to a meeting in his office Friday afternoon amid nervousness about the bill.
After the vote, some moderate Republicans and some Democrats expressed frustration with the actions of their hard-line conservative colleagues.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said the fact that the Conservative Political Action Conference was simultaneously underway in suburban Maryland fueled the conservative mutiny.
“They’re going to go up and pound their chest,” he said. “That’s what this is about. Safety second, bravado first.”
The final margin was also decided by more than a dozen Republicans whose support the leadership can usually count on, including four Virginia Republicans who were close allies of former majority leader Eric Cantor. Cantor stunningly lost his 2014 primary to now-Rep. Dave Brat, who ran to Cantor’s right on immigration. Brat voted no on the stopgap bill.
Firm Democratic resistance complicated matters. Echoing Reid, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called on Boehner to take up the Senate bill after the stopgap bill was rejected.
“Surely there are 30 Republicans who will vote to fund Department of Homeland Security. I’m confident of that,” he said.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who voted for the stopgap bill, called the Friday’s session a “significant emotional event” for House Republicans.
Womack, as many others, didn’t see any easy way out.
“Everybody who hasn’t hit ‘Miller Time’ yet knows that we probably were going to be in this spot in three weeks anyway,” he said.
The US Congress passed a one-week stopgap funding measure late Friday to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at midnight, sending the bill on to President Obama for his expected signature.
The last-minute deal came together after a whirlwind day of negotiations in which House Republicans suffered a humiliating defeat when their 20-day funding bill was rejected. The arrangement is expected to prolong talks about longer-term DHS funding until at least early next week.
After the House bill went down, the Senate sought to pull DHS back from the brink by swiftly passing the one-week bill. The House followed suit shortly thereafter.