House to Vote on Homeland Security Funding as Soon as Tuesday

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Homeland Security Funding Vote May Come Today

Congress is on track to end a showdown over Homeland Security Department spending and immigration policy after House Speaker John Boehner defied hard-line Republicans by allowing a vote on agency funding through September.

In doing so, the Ohio Republican capitulated to Democratic demands by scheduling votes starting Tuesday afternoon on a Senate-passed bill that doesn’t reverse President Barack Obama’s November orders on immigration. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi immediately agreed to back the plan with votes from her caucus.

Boehner didn’t have much choice. The department’s spending authority is set to run out after Friday, and he 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.

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 being voted on will be a so-called clean bill that drops that language.

Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican, predicted that the measure would pass primarily with Democratic votes.

‘How Many’

“The question is how many” Republicans would vote for it, Huizenga said. “Is it 40, is it 80? I don’t think it’s going to be half” of the House Republicans, said the lawmaker, who said he plans to vote against the measure.

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.

“House Democrats have made it clear we support full, long-term funding,” Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement. “We shouldn’t wait another day to remove all doubt” that the agency will be funded, she said.

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.

Stopgap Spending

Later that day, the House passed a one-week stopgap bill with Democratic support. Also on Feb. 27, the Senate passed 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 risks 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 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.

Temporarily Blocked

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.

Multiple lawmakers said Boehner told them the vote would be held under 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.

“You are going to see a strong vote for this from the conference,” said Representative Pat Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican.

The majority party can block the rule from being used, as it did during a spending dispute in 2013. This time, Representative Steve King of Iowa introduced a bill to bar use of the rule, though he said leaders decided not to allow action on it.

King 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.

‘People Lost’

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

Some Republicans opposed to Boehner have recently 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.

Fleming 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.

Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho, a leader of the battle over the Homeland Security bill, shook his head and declined to comment Tuesday on a possible vote.

Clean Bill

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas said he was “disappointed” to hear a characterization of the decision to allow a vote on a clean bill is 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.