It started with a phone call. On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats in the House came together to pass a measure funding the Department of Homeland Security through the rest of the fiscal year. And despite the repeated insistence from Speaker John A. Boehner's office that there was "no deal" between the Ohio Republican and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic sources close to negotiations tell a slightly different story.
There may not have been a "deal," but there was "an understanding." Staffers working both sides of the talks between Pelosi and Boehner, speaking on background to CQ Roll Call, gave a "he said, she said" account of the lead-up to Tuesday's vote on the "clean" DHS bill.
The account goes something like this: On Feb. 27, after a three-week continuing resolution to fund DHS went down on the floor, Pelosi huddled in her office with her leadership team, plotting the next step.
Then she got a phone call from Boehner. The DHS was set to shut down in a matter of hours, and conservatives still were not budging from their desire to only fund the agency if they could block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
Pelosi wanted the speaker to bring up the full, or clean, measure. But Boehner refused. He explained he had already sent the papers back to the Senate.
Working with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Pelosi suggested Boehner introduce a new, clean funding bill. After all, Republicans granted themselves the authority through the weekend to introduce a bill and vote on it on the same day.
But Boehner refused again. Pelosi and the speaker hung up without any real solution.
After the president called around 7 p.m., offering to assist in any way he could, Pelosi called Boehner back. She had an idea. According to a source with knowledge of the conversation, the minority leader started the call with these words: “Here’s what I’m thinking in interest of saving face.”
Pelosi and Boehner discussed a number of options, but settled on "an understanding." Democrats could utilize Rule XXII to bring up the Senate bill this week , as long as Pelosi agreed to get her party to pass a one-week continuing resolution for DHS.
Boehner would just need to permit — or at least not block — the Senate-passed spending bill coming to the floor under Rule XXII, a complex procedural maneuver that, at this stage of "disagreement" with the other chamber, would let any member of the House bring up the Senate measure.
Another House Democratic aide told CQ Roll Call that Pelosi and her colleagues thought of Rule XXII upon recollection of the 2013 government shutdown. Back then, Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., slammed the GOP for specifically undoing the clause that would have let any rank-and-file lawmaker reopen federal operations.
In any case, letting Rule XXII run its course this time around was supposedly a way for Boehner to avert a mutiny in his conference and avoid accusations he had "caved" on fighting against Obama's executive actions. The Ohio Republican would only be following the rules.
Boehner agreed, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the events, though a House Republican aide also close to conversations told CQ Roll Call that despite Pelosi's push for a commitment to bring up the Senate bill, there was "no deal," as Boehner would only be agreeing to follow "regular order."
By Monday, after CQ Roll Call reported over the weekend on the possibility of the legislative tactic, conservatives were catching on.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced an amendment to turn off Rule XXII, and pressure was mounting. Conservatives felt Republicans had an obligation to fight the president's executive action, while a group of moderates believed it was the responsibility of Republicans to govern and fund DHS.
GOP leadership was torn. According to a lawmaker who was part of the discussion, Boehner was considering letting King and others attach the amendment to a rule for a different bill, with the expectation that moderate Republicans would join Democrats to strip the King amendment on the floor.
Boehner ultimately decided not to go that route, deciding with Pelosi on Monday afternoon to set Tuesday as the date for the floor vote on the Senate's DHS bill.
They would utilize Rule XXII — only a Republican would bring up the bill, not a Democrat. (A GOP aide contended Boehner unilaterally set the Tuesday date.)
Either way, by Tuesday afternoon, it was all over.
Boehner told Republicans during a weekly conference meeting they had three options: the Senate bill; another short-term CR, which he didn't expect Democrats to go for; or a DHS shutdown. And Boehner said he wasn't willing to shut down the department.
"Imagine if, God forbid, another terrorist attack hits the United States,” Boehner said, according to a source in the room.
Some Republicans balked, but there was nothing they could do. Idaho Republican Mike Simpson brought up the bill Tuesday afternoon and, after a three-way debate between moderate Republicans, conservatives and Democrats, it passed 257-167. For Pelosi and other Democrats, the saga's conclusion is a victory. At a hastily organized news conference following passage of the measure, which won support from every House Democrat, Pelosi grinned at the microphones.
"I'm proud of the vote today," she said.
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