House Passes Homeland Security Funding Measure to Avoid Shutdown

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walks to the House floor to vote on the 'motion to table the Senate amendment' on the DHS Funding bill at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

Congress ended a showdown linking Homeland Security Department spending and immigration policy as House Speaker John Boehner defied hard-line Republicans and let the chamber vote to fund the agency through September.

The House passed the measure 257-167 after the Ohio Republican capitulated to Democratic demands to take up a Senate-passed bill that doesn’t reverse President Barack Obama’s November orders on immigration. Boehner voted yes.

The measure, without the immigration language, now will go to Obama for his signature.

Congress’s duty is to “provide funding for government -- all of government,” said Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, a Republican who supported passage. The measure “is the only path forward to avoid a potentially devastating shutdown” of the Homeland Security Department, he said.

Arizona Republican Matt Salmon maintained that lawmakers should continue to take a stand against Obama’s immigration orders.

The Republican divide was on full display on the House floor Tuesday. Conservatives argued that their leaders were violating the U.S. Constitution as Republican leadership allies joined with Democrats to argue their colleagues were threatening national security.

‘Too Long’

Voting for the measure were 75 Republicans and 182 Democrats. All of the “no” votes were Republicans.

“If we’re not going to fight now, when are we going to fight?” Salmon said.

Obama said in a statement that “after far too long” Congress voted for funding for a department that patrols borders, responds to disasters and screens airline passengers.

“To make sure the Americans who protect our country and our people have the resources they need to get the job done, I will sign this bill into law as soon as I receive it,” Obama said.

In a sign of the deep split in the Republican Party, those voting against the measure and Boehner included: Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, Rules Chairman Pete Sessions and Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, all of Texas. Also voting against the measure were Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia.

The department’s spending authority was set to run out after Friday. Boehner wanted to avoid a repeat of the Feb. 27 spectacle in which Tea Party-aligned Republicans and House Democrats ganged up on him to defeat a three-week funding extension.

Speaker’s Gavel

Some Republicans have said Boehner’s retreat could imperil his grip on the speaker’s gavel. That’s one reason he had been reluctant to rely on Democratic votes to pass major legislation. What his detractors haven’t done is put forth a candidate who could replace him.

Tea Party Republicans had insisted that any funding measure also block Obama’s November orders shielding about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The measure passed Tuesday is a so-called clean bill that drops that language.

Democrats oppose tying agency funding to immigration policy, and Obama said he would veto any reversal of his orders. Senate Democrats five times blocked proposals in their chamber that included the immigration language.

Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina blamed Senate Democrats for blocking a bill that would have included restrictions on Obama’s actions.

Rules Change

“It is incumbent upon conservative Republicans in the Senate to change the rules,” Mulvaney said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement, “for the sake of the country we must stop governing by crisis.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said her members “have made it clear we support full, long-term funding” for Homeland Security.

Boehner tried and failed to pass a three-week funding bill on Feb. 27 to allow more time for negotiations. The measure was brought down by conservatives, with 52 Republicans voting against it as leaders tried to cajole their support in a chaotic House floor scene.

During Tuesday’s debate, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, co-chairman of a House group of moderates, called on his colleagues to end what he called a “corrosive pattern” that has included potential government shutdowns.

“Let’s show the American people we are serious about homeland security and that we have the capacity to govern,” said Dent.

Stopgap Bill

Later that day, the House passed a one-week stopgap bill with Democratic support. Also on Feb. 27, the Senate voted 68-31 to pass its version of the bill, H.R. 240, funding the agency through September without the immigration language.

The immigration issue has dominated a congressional calendar that Republican leaders -- in control of both chambers since January -- wanted to fill with debate over priorities including job creation, health-care policy and curbing business regulations. The debate also risked alienating Latino voters before the 2016 presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had said there would be no government shutdowns like the 16-day partial shutdown in 2013.

Boehner told fellow Republicans during a closed-door meeting Tuesday that a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department wasn’t an option and that another short-term spending bill was unlikely to pass, according to a legislative aide who was in the room.

Court Case

The speaker said a lawsuit that has temporarily blocked the Obama administration from carrying out his immigration policy is the best chance for overturning it, said the aide, who sought anonymity to describe the private meeting.

The House used a seldom-used rule that lets any member call for a floor vote on a bill when the House and Senate have passed conflicting versions. Although the majority party can block use of the rule, Republicans decided not to do so in this case.

Representative Steve King of Iowa had warned on Feb. 27 that if Boehner were to bring a full-year funding bill without the immigration language to the floor, his speakership could be in jeopardy.

“I’d say the American people lost,” King said Tuesday. “They lost a part of the Constitution to the extortion of Democrats.”

Freedom Caucus

Some Republicans opposed to Boehner have formed a new group called the “House Freedom Caucus.” Members of the group seemed resigned to losing the fight over Homeland Security funding when they emerged from a morning meeting at the Capitol Hill Club with Boehner.

Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican, said the caucus didn’t take Boehner’s action personally and that members tried their best to move the party toward their position on the dispute. He said it would be up to a federal court to stop Obama’s immigration actions now.

Sessions, the Rules Committee chairman, said he was “disappointed” to hear a characterization of the decision to allow a vote on a clean bill as a win for the country.

“A win for the country is when we agree to sit down at the table and resolve differences,” said Sessions, in an interview. “That’s a win for the country.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Feb. 26 that a partial shutdown of his agency would require 30,000 Homeland Security employees to be furloughed and 170,000 essential personnel to keep working without pay.

The confusion over Homeland Security spending followed episodes last month when Boehner had to pull a border-security bill and an anti-abortion measure from the floor for lack of support.

In the 2015 session’s opening moments on Jan. 6, Boehner was a target of Republican opposition, as 24 of his party members voted for someone else to be speaker. He won the election, though with votes from less than half of the full House membership.

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