Democrats Won’t Debate Immigration Until DHS Funds Are Enacted

A young boy looks up at the US Capitol under construction in Washington, DC, December 30, 2014.

A young boy looks up at the US Capitol under construction in Washington, DC, December 30, 2014.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The Senate and House Democratic leaders stepped up pressure on House Republicans to fund the Department of Homeland Security, saying they won’t negotiate on a spending measure that also blocks U.S. immigration policies.

“If they send over a bill with all the riders in it, they’ve shut down the government,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said at a news conference Thursday in Washington. “If they want to debate immigration when this is all over with, we’ll be happy to do it.”

“Understand, shutting down government is their motive,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who spoke to reporters with Reid.

Funding expires after Friday for the Homeland Security agency, and the Senate is moving forward on a plan to finance it. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would work to get the bill to the House by the end of the week.

House Republicans have refused to consider a spending bill unless it also blocks President Barack Obama’s November orders on immigration. The Senate plans to address immigration in a separate bill.

Reid said Americans are frightened about terrorism, and noted that just a day earlier three New York residents were charged with trying to support Islamic State, or ISIL.

“ISIS appears to have money, terrorists appear to have money; why shouldn’t our homeland have the ability to protect itself?” Reid said.

Boehner Pressured

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has been under pressure from Tea Party-backed Republicans to use the Homeland Security bill as leverage after he promised a battle over immigration this year to his rank and file. Allowing a vote on a bill that funds Homeland Security without addressing immigration might imperil Boehner’s standing with those members.

One member of Boehner’s Republican caucus who disagrees is Representative Peter King of New York, a member of the Homeland Security Committee.

“If Boehner’s going to get it done he ought to bite the bullet and get it done now,” King said. “What you’re talking about is a small group of people who want to hold the party hostage.”

“We have to cut them off now because they’ll keep doing this,” King said.

Pelosi said she told Boehner this week that Democrats wouldn’t support passing a short-term funding measure.

“Let’s just get the job done on time,” she said, and fund the agency through September, the end of the fiscal year.

The risk of a partial Homeland Security shutdown comes less than two months after Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. McConnell has insisted there will be “no government shutdowns.”

Netanyahu Speech

Lawmakers also risk embarrassment if they allow a partial Homeland Security shutdown lasting until March 3, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address a joint meeting of Congress on security issues.

Republicans have been trying to use the agency funding bill to block Obama’s decision in November to ease deportation for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The Senate failed four times to advance a House bill that linked the issues.

Democrats oppose any legislation to block Obama’s immigration orders. Even if such a measure gets to the president’s desk, Obama would veto it.

The Homeland Security Department includes the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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