Congress returns this week facing yet another Department of Homeland Security funding deadline — but the appropriations squabble has suddenly become overshadowed by an increasingly bitter internal fight among House Republicans for the soul of the party.
House conservatives sank the GOP leadership’s plan for a three-week continuing resolution for DHS while an appeals court rules on an injunction blocking the administration from implementing the president’s executive action on immigration — but the victory was short-lived . The Senate sent over a one-week CR. The House passed it. And, with just minutes to spare before a lapse in appropriations at DHS, President Barack Obama signed the bill.
Now, with a House and Senate seemingly out of sync, and with a House GOP that’s becoming more splintered by the day, Republican leaders are squaring off this week for a battle that could set the tone for the rest of the 114th Congress.
Already there is chatter among the House’s more conservative circles that now is the time to depose Speaker John A. Boehner — and the Ohio Republican somehow has to appease a number of constituencies within his own party who want different things.
Conservatives want a fight. They want to block President Barack Obama's executive action in the DHS bill, even if that means a shutdown at the agency.
Another bloc of Republicans more closely aligned with the speaker is growing increasingly resentful of “phony conservative Members,” as House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes called them over the weekend, “who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama’s lawlessness.”
“While conservative leaders are trying to move the ball up the field,” the California Republican continued in a press release issued Feb. 28, “these other Members sit in exotic places like basements of Mexican restaurants and upper levels of House office buildings, seemingly unaware that they can’t advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.”
Rep. Peter T. King, one of the Republicans most critical of some in his own party, called the hard-liners "self-righteous and delusional."
"We have to stand behind John Boehner and John Boehner has to find a way this week, as soon as possible in the week, once Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu finishes his speech , to bring ... the clean bill to the floor of the House for a vote, an up or down vote," the New York Republican said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "There's no doubt it will pass."
But with DHS funding set to run out at 11:59 p.m. Friday , it’s still an open question what Boehner will do. He could bring up a "clean” long-term continuing resolution like the one the Senate already passed, or he could get creative in an effort to placate more conservative members in the House.
Or perhaps he doesn’t need to do anything.
As CQ Roll Call reported , there is a provision tucked into the House rule book that could provide the Ohio Republican with a relatively painless way out of the DHS standoff.
Under current rules, any House Democrat may be able to force a vote on a clean DHS funding measure by making a privileged motion the House recede from its previous position and concur in the Senate amendment.
The Senate voted to amend the House-passed DHS funding bill — with immigration policy riders — and replace it with a “clean,” six-month spending bill. The House, in turn, voted to “disagree” with the Senate’s amendment to the House’s proposal, sending the bill back across the Rotunda and requesting a conference committee.
Under clause four of House Rule XXII — not to be confused with the more-often cited Senate Rule XXII — “When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.”
In other words, any House lawmaker could take to the floor and move the House concur with the Senate bill.
“Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a "Dear Colleague" letter to Democrats — a letter the House minority leader sent, according to top aides, as things unfolded the night of Feb. 27 after reaching an agreement with Boehner.
In an interview on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Boehner was asked what promise he made to Democrats.
Boehner chose his words carefully: "The promise I made to Ms. Pelosi is the same promise I made to Republicans, that we would follow regular order."
He said, "We want to go to conference with the Senate. Now, they've made clear that they don't want to go to conference. But they're going to have a vote, and if they vote in fact not to go to conference, this bill might be coming back here to the House."
Though it was not addressed during the interview, it is in following so-called "regular order" Boehner could find a way out of the DHS funding mess.
Democratic aides told CQ Roll Call Republicans think the plan could protect Boehner from blame that he “caved” to his party’s moderates. Boehner and his allies could point to House rules and parliamentary procedure, however obscure and arcane, to explain what just occurred ostensibly beyond his control.
But this plan would still require a majority vote of the House, and would require dozens of Republican votes and likely at least the tacit approval of House leadership. It would be difficult for Boehner to play dumb — the procedural tactic might enrage conservatives even more than if the speaker just decided to put a clean bill on the floor — and a determined House majority also could block the move.
The Rules Committee could pre-emptively vote to suspend or amend Rule XXII to block the gambit, as it did before the October 2013 shutdown, though a House Democratic aide told CQ Roll Call the understanding last week was that GOP leaders would not seek to change the rule to prevent a Democrat from coming to the floor with a motion to bring up the Senate bill.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel denied any explicit promise.
“There is no ‘deal’ or promise to pass the Senate bill in the House if Senate Democrats block a motion to go to Conference," Steel told CQ Roll Call. "We believe a Conference is the right, regular order way to resolve differences in House and Senate-passed bills under the Constitution.”
Related: How an Obscure Rule Could Give Boehner a Way Out of DHS Mess House Averts Shutdown of DHS for 1 Week (Video) House GOP Fails to Advance 3-Week DHS Funding Bill New Tea Party Caucus Chairman: DHS Fight Could Break the GOP The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.