Senate Democrats are increasing pressure on majority Republicans to abandon plans to block President Barack Obama’s immigration orders as a condition of funding the Homeland Security Department.
Second-ranking Senate Democrat Richard Durbin said it would be “the height of irresponsibility,” given recent terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, for Republicans to use the spending measure to try to thwart Obama’s easing of the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“Now is not the time to play politics with homeland security,” Durbin of Illinois said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.
Under an agreement reached in December before Democrats turned over control of the Senate to Republicans, Homeland Security funding is scheduled to lapse Feb. 27. That means the agency would face a shutdown of non-essential operations if Congress doesn’t agree on a funding plan by then.
The House voted Jan. 14 to finance the agency through Sept. 30. The bill includes language seeking to block Obama’s November immigration order that protects almost 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The House measure also would end a 2012 directive aiding undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, although that provision was opposed by 26 Republicans.
Senate Republicans are making the case for preserving the immigration language, though Obama has said he would veto a bill that includes it. Republicans control the Senate 54-46.
“This is an important fight to have,” said Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the Republican leadership who is up for re-election next year. “I think we should do everything we can to persuade at least a half a dozen Democrats that they should join us to get this done.”
So far, Democrats are united against including immigration language in the spending bill. They introduced a bill this week, S. 272, to fund Homeland Security without making policy changes.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement that Republicans “should not put our national security at risk simply because they are too timid to stand up to the extreme right-wing voices in their own caucus.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber will take up the funding measure once it completes work, probably this week, on legislation approving TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.
McConnell wouldn’t say what version of the Homeland Security bill the chamber would consider and what, if any, amendments would be allowed.
“The procedure by which we deal with that will be determined later,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters Tuesday.
More than 40 House Republicans, led by Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, wrote to McConnell on Wednesday urging him to bring the House-passed bill to a vote as soon as possible.
Asked which chamber would consider legislation first to fund Homeland Security without reversing Obama’s actions on immigration, House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said it was a “questionable assumption” that either the House or the Senate would pass such a measure.
House Republicans are working on a separate border-security plan as part of a piecemeal approach to rewriting immigration laws.
The House has refused to consider a bipartisan plan passed by the Senate in 2013 that would bolster border security while creating a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.
House leaders were forced to indefinitely postpone a vote on a $10 billion border-security bill this week because of opposition from some Republicans who said the measure didn’t go far enough. Boehner lawmakers are discussing their differences.
Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said he would like to see changes in the border security bill before it comes to the floor.
“I’ve encouraged leadership to run it through the committee process, give us time to work it, so members can write thoughtful amendments,” King said.
Changes should include sending more resources to governors and limiting travel for people apprehended on suspected immigration violations at the border to ensure they can be located while their case is being decided, King said.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, wouldn’t say Tuesday what the chamber would do if the Senate doesn’t pass the House’s Homeland Security funding bill, H.R. 240.
“There’s no reason for me to speculate about what we will or won’t do,” the speaker said in a press conference after a closed-door meeting with Republicans. “At this point, it’s up to the Senate to act, and I expect that they will soon.”
House conservatives have been predicting for two weeks that the Senate would send back a measure stripped of the language to defund Obama’s actions on immigration.
Some, including Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, say they think that’s why Boehner and other Republican leaders tried to push through the border-security bill this week.
Salmon, in an interview, said he and others saw that as an attempt at throwing a “bargaining chit” to compensate conservatives for having to eventually vote for a Homeland Security funding bill that doesn’t block Obama’s immigration actions.
Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said Boehner would be breaking his promise to fight “tooth and nail” against Obama’s orders if he allowed a vote on a Homeland Security spending bill that left the orders untouched.
Boehner could rely on House Democratic votes to help pass such a bill, but “that is not what John Boehner promised,” Huelskamp told reporters.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California has united almost of her members in opposition to the House-passed Homeland Security spending bill. All except two opposed it earlier this month.
“It’s time for Republicans to stop threatening the safety of American families and join with Democrats to fund the Department of Homeland Security immediately,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Tuesday in a statement.