Democrats Unified, in Campaign Mode on Immigration Orders
The gavel had barely dropped on Senate Republicans’ failed first attempt to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration when the Democratic campaign arm started blasting GOP senators for their votes.
Democrats defied Republicans in hopes the GOP would splinter on the House Homeland Security funding bill, with every single Democrat voting to filibuster debating the House’s Homeland Security bill over its attempt to roll back executive actions for millions of immigrants.
“Senate Republicans should stop the political theater and listen to the national security experts in their party who have urged passage of a clean bill that would prevent a DHS shutdown,” DSCC spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement.
But just weeks from the deadline to keep the Department of Homeland Security from facing a funding lapse, the theatrics from the two parties showed no signs of waning.
“We are happy to debate Homeland Security. But not with a gun to our head or to the president’s head,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, said on the floor.
The bill failed to advance with 51 votes, 60 were needed. It wasn’t long ago that Democrats decried Republicans for blocking bills from reaching the floor that had majority support, but the tables have turned.
A Republican familiar with the discussion at Tuesday’s conference lunch said many of the senators in attendance — including Ted Cruz of Texas and Susan Collins of Maine — agreed the next step should be to strike out the provision designed to bring to a halt the 2012 executive actions affecting the group of young people brought to the United States as children who are often referred to as “DREAMers.”
“I hope that Democrats who are looking at the bill will think about how odd it is to not allow a bill that would fund the department to be considered and amended,” said Collins, who noted that while she thought there could be a dispute about Obama’s 2012 actions, “the 2014 order is not even a close call.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to call up the procedural vote again, which is why he actually voted “no.” That move, said Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, is designed to highlight Democratic obstruction.
“I think it’s on them for not wanting to talk about the issue,” the South Dakota Republican said. “I think we will give them an opportunity to vote on that more than one time, but just using the procedural rules to keep us from even debating it is a disservice to people who care deeply about this issue on both sides.”
Nevada Republican Dean Heller was the only one to break ranks, though he said in a statement he still opposes the president’s executive action.
“Instead of addressing the issue of immigration reform comprehensively, the bill before us today only includes language that complicates the process of finding a solution,” Heller said. “Until the Administration comes to the table with Congressional Leadership to craft a viable path forward for both the Department of Homeland Security and comprehensive immigration reform, my stance will remain the same.”
The senior senator from Nevada, Minority Leader Harry Reid, ripped into the GOP and accused them of “playing politics with our national security.”
“Republicans are saying that tearing apart families is more important to them than protecting the United States and keeping Americans safe,” Reid said in a statement. “If my colleagues want to fix our broken immigration system, we are happy to have a debate. But we should not put our national security at risk in the meantime.”
Reid told reporters Democrats would accept nothing short of a “clean” bill without unwanted immigration policy riders, and earlier Tuesday, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, stepped in and urged Senate Democrats to allow debate on the bill, passed by the House earlier this month.
He named Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly as Democrats who were critical of the executive action and urged them to move the bill along.
“There’s a whole host of Democrats who issued press releases criticizing the president’s executive overreach — McCaskill, Donnelly, others. Was it all talk?” Boehner asked.
McCaskill told reporters Boehner had “parsed” her words.
“I think what I’ve said consistently is all the House Republicans have to do in order avoid the president’s executive action is to act, is to debate and take up comprehensive immigration reform,” McCaskill said. “They have refused to do that … I always prefer legislative action. [But] that responsibility lies directly in the chair of Speaker Boehner who has refused to defy the tea party and do what’s right for this country.”
After the vote she was one of several Democrats, along with Schumer and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, to take to the floor to renew their calls for a “clean” DHS funding bill.
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson also made a trip to Capitol Hill urging a deal, telling lawmakers that keeping his department on a continuing resolution blocked items such as grants to fire departments in their states and districts.
He told reporters outside the West Wing later Tuesday that a possible partial shutdown of his department is “too bitter to contemplate,” but said he must nonetheless prepare for the possibility.
He said essential workers would still come to work but would not receive paychecks, and there would be disruptions across the department, which he noted stretches from airport security to ports to fighting terrorism.
He said he remains “optimistic” Congress will ultimately “do the right thing.”
The clash over DHS funding cames a day before Senate Democrats and Republicans were scheduled to sit down for a rare joint luncheon in an effort to foster bipartisanship. (The White House is hosting a reception for freshman lawmakers Wednesday night, and several leaders will be in attendance.)
Asked if the lunch would be awkward, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said he didn’t think so.
“You can differ on things and still have a bipartisan lunch,” the Utah Republican said. “I think we are looking forward to it.”
But in the next breath he disparaged Democrats who “have been so partisan over the last number of years. … So we’ll see. They don’t do anything unless there is an angle to it.”
Hatch then added, “I shouldn’t say that.”
Emma Dumain, Tamar Hallerman and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.