House Republicans on Tuesday evening were still digesting the news that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hoped to advance a "clean" bill to float Homeland Security operations before department funding expires at the end of the week.
GOP lawmakers won't know how leadership will respond until the regularly scheduled Wednesday morning members' meeting — and even after that, a path forward could remain elusive. If McConnell, R-Ky., is able to advance a DHS funding bill scrubbed of House language to block President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration, then Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his lieutenants are going to have to make a calculation.
That is, do they want to put legislation on the floor that would certainly pass and save the agency from a shutdown, but would surely be carried by Democrats and likely fall well short of the so-called "Hastert Rule," where the majority of the majority party secures a bill's success?
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said he thinks Boehner could not survive such a move politically.
"He better be listening to everybody at the table. You know, there were 25 that didn't vote for leadership in January," Gosar, one of those dissenters , told CQ Roll Call.
"I don't know what the repercussions would be" for Boehner, added Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who also voted for another speaker candidate at the start of the 114th Congress.
On the flip side, some House Republicans are questioning if the Republican Party as a whole could weather the political storm of opposing a "clean" DHS spending bill.
"I don't see how it's helpful for us to risk a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security," said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. He said the recent court order to block the president's immigration executive actions was a compelling reason for the GOP to feel comfortable advancing a rider-free spending bill at this point.
"A lot will depend on how members assess the opinion of the courts and do they see that as sufficient," Cole said. "I personally do."
Cole said he believes the House Republican efforts up to this point helped put pressure on state attorneys general to fight against the executive order implementation.
"I think every once in a while you need to know when to take your winnings off the table and walk away from the game," he said, "and we've won because of the actions of the court, and there's now a process set up to resolve this."
There also remains a reality that legislation blocking the immigration orders will never become law since Obama has promised to veto any bill that undoes his initiative granting stays of deportation to certain undocumented immigrants.
And Senate Democrats have shown they can block measures containing such provisions, thwarting multiple procedural votes over the past few weeks to advance the House-passed DHS spending bill containing the immigration riders.
"That's not rocket science" that those riders couldn't survive beyond the House of Representatives, said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a longtime advocate of overhauling the nation's immigration system who has opposed past GOP efforts to dismantle the White House's so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Still, plenty of House Republicans are standing by the rhetoric that it will be Senate Democrats, not the GOP, who will bear the blame in the event the DHS does in fact shut down.
"The Senate Democratic Caucus has halted the upper chamber, childishly demanding a bill that meets their requirements before they even consider it. That is not how our government works," Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said in a statement.
Salmon also called McConnell's new strategy — trying to pass a rider-free DHS spending bill and then a separate bill dismantling Obama's immigration orders — "tantamount to surrender."
Boehner seemed to be sticking to the script on Tuesday.
"The Speaker has been clear: the House has acted, and now Senate Democrats need to stop hiding," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. "Will they continue to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security or not?”
With Wednesday morning the designated time for members and leadership to sound off, senior House Republicans late on Tuesday were reticent to speculate on what plan could ultimately materialize.
After all, they said, they were still waiting on the Senate.
"We'll see what the Senate does and we have not received instructions from leadership yet on the House side, but we're prepared to act as we need to," said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
Republican leaders also were uninterested in responding to a challenge posed Tuesday afternoon by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat proclaimed Boehner must promise to allow a House floor vote on a clean DHS spending bill up, or Senate Democrats won't cooperate in passing the legislation out of their chamber.
A senior House GOP aide scoffed.
“Apparently inspired by President Obama’s own over-reach, Sen. Reid is now shamelessly threatening to filibuster a ‘clean’ Homeland Security funding bill," the aide said in an e-mail to CQ Roll Call. "The American people are watching, and there will be consequences for Senate Democrats’ hypocrisy and irresponsibility.”
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