Amid dissension in the conservative ranks, House GOP leaders are furiously whipping the Department of Homeland Security funding bill in an attempt to get it to the Senate with hardly any help from Democrats.
Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus emerged Friday afternoon from their second meeting in fewer than 24 hours with a seemingly unified front: They are going to vote no. It's not an official HFC position, and there are some members who report they are "a firm yes," such as Tom McClintock of California. But many in the HFC have reported to CQ Roll Call they are voting against the three-week DHS bill as long as it doesn't block President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
With Democrats whipping fairly hard against the short-term continuing resolution — they say the bill is too short in duration and needs to provide more certainty for DHS employees — Republican leaders are trying to get as many votes from their own conference as possible, with no guarantee any Democrat will vote for the bill, though a smattering have already said they will.
The difficult part for GOP leaders is knowing how many Democratic votes they can really count on. Even Democrats who are inclined to vote for the bill could make Republicans put up 218 yes votes before voting for it, and that will be a difficult threshold to hit.
If Republican leaders can somehow pull it off and get the bill back to the Senate, it looks like their gambit could work. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Friday that, given no other option, Senate Democrats would support the three-week CR "very reluctantly."
"The worst choice? Shut down the government. Best choice? Fully fund the department. They're sort of in between and not giving us much choice," Schumer said.
And White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reported Friday Obama would sign the three-week CR, if that's his only option.
If Republicans are successful, it'd be a big win for Speaker John A. Boehner and other GOP leaders who have had a few "stumbles," in Boehner's words, to start the 114th Congress. And because Democrats are looking to minimize their support, if House Republicans are able to pass the bill, they'd do it with as few GOP dissenters as possible. Had Democrats been more willing to give Republicans votes, there would probably be a greater number of Republicans peeling away from their party on the bill.
But should Republicans not come up with the votes, if the bill goes down on the floor or is pulled before it ever gets there, it could be a major setback for Boehner.
Already, there is chatter of a coup attempt against the speaker. During a Thursday night meeting of the HFC, members discussed a tactic of trying to hold a vote to vacate the chair, according to one of the members present at the meeting. And while conservatives in the group seemed to mostly dismiss the idea, their attempt to bring down the DHS funding bill could have its own impact.
Stopping Boehner from passing a three-week extension could force him to cave to Democrats entirely and pass a "clean" DHS extension until Sept. 30, as the Senate has already done.
Conservatives seem to believe taking down the bill would strengthen their hand, not weaken it, and the HFC discussed potential responses should leaders not be able to pass the bill. According to a member of the group, HFC members discussed just sending over the motion to conference with the Senate. They believe that, in the face of a shutdown — most HFC associates believe it's more of a DHS "slow down," according to the member — the Senate would have no other option but to go to conference on the DHS bill.
But what kind of response leaders would take is uncertain. As of Friday afternoon, it still wasn't clear whether Republicans would have a vote for the bill, though a leadership aide told CQ Roll Call Republicans had not pulled the bill.
Potentially lost in the shuffle is a "No Child Left Behind" rewrite. Members were told Friday leaders wanted to deal with DHS before the education bill, and that they would reassess once the three-week extension had made it through. That may be a convenient cover for yet another bill pulled from the floor, or it could be a testament to how difficult the DHS haul really was for the GOP whip team.
Either way, everything seemed in flux Friday afternoon: Timing, whether they'd vote on the DHS bill or the education measure and whether either would pass. Leaders have a long list of questions to answer and not much time left. DHS funding runs out at midnight.
Carolyn Phenicie, Niels Lesniewski and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.
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