Despite Court Injunction, DHS Shutdown Continues to Approach
Two days after a Texas judge halted President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, nothing seems to have changed in the congressional showdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security.
The DHS runs out of cash in 10 days, and Democrats and Republicans appear as dug in as ever on the appropriations bill. A House-passed measure would block Obama’s executive action, as well as a number of other immigration provisions, including an earlier executive action on child immigrants.
But that House bill has gone exactly nowhere in the Senate, with three failed cloture votes on the motion to proceed yielding zero Democratic votes. After a week of recess, both chambers return next week, and the Senate is scheduled to take another vote on Feb. 23 — just in case the fourth time is the charm.
Absent a sudden change of heart, however, the Senate will be no closer to passing a DHS funding bill than they were more than a month ago when the House sent over its version of the legislation. And even though Senate GOP leadership has alluded to the fact the House might want to send over a new bill — perhaps one without conservative provisions blocking the president’s executive action — House Republicans have been just as insistent that it’s the Senate’s turn to act.
“The House has passed a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security and blocks President Obama’s executive overreach on immigration,” Speaker John A. Boehner’s press secretary, Michael Steel, told CQ Roll Call Wednesday. “Hopefully, the court’s action will convince Senate Democrats to drop their filibuster and allow the Senate to begin debate on that bill.”
The official line from Boehner’s office, even after the Texas court injunction, remains the same. This is a problem of Senate Democrats’ making, they say, and Senate Democrats will be to blame if the DHS experiences a lapse in funding.
On Sunday, Boehner told Fox News he was “certainly” ready to let DHS slip into a shutdown.
“The House has acted,” the Ohio Republican said. “We’ve done our job.”
After a Texas judge stepped in late Monday night to block the president’s newest executive action on immigration from taking effect, Boehner and other Republicans doubled down on that line, saying this was more evidence of why Senate Democrats should take up their bill.
But no one — Senate Democrats, first and foremost — seems to be convinced by that rhetoric, and, increasingly, it looks like it will be up to Republicans to make a move on DHS funding.
Last week, House conservatives on a monthly panel said an injunction could change their calculus on a DHS funding bill, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.
The House Freedom Caucus, a newly formed coalition of 30 to 40 conservatives, issued a news release Tuesday saying it was time for Senate Democrats to follow the will of the American people and “allow debate on the House-passed bill.”
Already, though, some in the GOP are hoping the Texas court injunction will make that truth a little more palatable for more conservative members.
“The judge’s ruling should make a short term funding extension pill marginally easier to swallow,” a senior House GOP aide told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday. “Like most medicine, it was never a pill anyone actually wants to take, but at least now it wouldn’t taste as bad on its way down.”
A “short term funding extension,” as the senior GOP aide referred to it, may or may not mean a continuing resolution until Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins. The House and Senate could pass an even shorter DHS funding bill, functionally keeping the agency running but continuing the DHS-immigration action fight.
The Obama administration was cagey Wednesday when White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked if the president would sign a short-term CR for the DHS. But Obama would probably have to. It’s hard to imagine him vetoing a CR to keep the DHS lights on.
Much of the battle over the Department of Homeland Security is coming down to optics: Who would take the blame for a DHS shutdown? Republicans insist the blood would be on Senate Democrats’ hands, while Democrats maintain this is no different from 2013, when the GOP bore the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown.
Monday’s court injunction could give Republicans just enough political cover to make passing a clean bill, as the GOP aide said, easier to swallow.
Whether that’s enough to get a funding bill through Congress before Feb. 28 — or whether only a DHS shutdown will placate conservatives — will be answered next week.