House Speaker John Boehner said he’s prepared to let funding lapse for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and blame Democrats if the Senate fails to pass a House-backed bill for the agency.
Senate Republicans have failed three times to advance the bill, which seeks to reverse President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration policy as a condition for funding the department. Democrats have blocked the measure, saying funding shouldn’t be held up over an unrelated policy dispute.
“It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together,” Boehner said on the “Fox News Sunday” program in an interview taped on Feb. 13.
The Homeland Security Department faces a shutdown of non-essential operations if Congress doesn’t reach agreement before current funding ends on Feb. 27.
When asked if he was prepared to let the funding lapse, the Ohio Republican said, “Certainly. The House has acted. We’ve done our job.”
The legislation passed by the House would provide $39.7 billion to keep the department operating through September. As a condition for that funding, the House would prohibit money to finance Obama’s order halting deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said the blame rests with Boehner if funding expires.
“He will be responsible for shutting down a large part of the government,” Schumer said in a statement. “The American people will perceive it that way, and his party and the country will suffer for it.”
Boehner said Republicans felt obligated to try to reverse Obama’s immigration action because the president was exceeding his legal authority, a charge Obama has denied.
“The president said 22 times that he did not have the authority to do what he eventually did,” Boehner said. “And the Congress just can’t sit by and let the president defy the Constitution and defy his own oath of office.”
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his party must resolve the impasse to avoid a partial government shutdown.
“The American people didn’t give us the majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans,” McCain said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “They want things done. We cannot cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out.”
Boehner also used his Fox interview to push for what he called a more “robust authorization” to combat Islamic State fighters than the draft proposed by Obama.
“The president is asking for less authority than he has today under previous authorizations,” Boehner said. “I don’t think that’s smart.”
Obama on Wednesday sent Congress a draft authorization to battle Islamic State, while prohibiting U.S. troops from engaging in “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
The Republican push for less restrictive language sets up a fight with some Democrats who are seeking more curbs on Obama’s authority to use ground troops, underscoring the difficulty Congress will have in passing a war resolution.
“I don’t believe the authorization the president asked for will give him the tools he needs to defeat ISIL,” Boehner said, using an acronym for Islamic State, which declared a self-styled caliphate and controls parts of Iraq and Syria.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposes Obama’s call for a three-year expiration of the authorization measure.
“We don’t want to send a signal to the world that we’re there for just so many years,” Reed said on “Meet the Press.” “Unfortunately, this battle is going to take a long time.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that Obama’s proposal gives Congress “a good place to start.”
“What they shouldn’t do this time is what they did in 2013, when they took a pass on the issue,” McDonough said. “The president has given them a road map to follow. They can take that or they can come up with something else.”
Boehner also defended his decision to invite Israeli Prime Mininster Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress on March 3 without first consulting with the White House.
Boehner said he made the invitation without telling the Obama administration because he “wanted to make sure that there was no interference. There’s no secret here in Washington about the animosity that this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I frankly didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”
The prime minister’s message will be important as the administration tries to reach an agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program, Boehner said. Netanyahu has said he opposes the basic framework of those talks.
“We’re trying to strengthen the president’s hand in these negotiations,” Boehner said of his decision. Obama has said he won’t meet with Netanyahu because the visit comes too close to Israel’s parliamentary elections.