Senate Stops Republicans From Reversing Obama on Immigration

Senate Democrats were united in blocking a Republican bill that would reverse President Barack Obama’s orders shielding about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The 51-48 vote failed to advance the bill, with 60 required. Republicans were seeking to use a House-passed spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security to force the president to abandon the immigration action he announced in November.

“You can’t protect the country if you refuse to even debate the bill,” Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, told reporters before the vote.

The vote shows that Democrats will stand firm against the Republican legislation, and Obama is threatening to veto anything that unravels his actions. Republican Dean Heller of Nevada joined with Democrats in opposing the bill.

With House Republicans demanding a greater effort by Senate leaders to muscle their bill through, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled he may try once more to bring it to a vote. McConnell, of Kentucky, switched to vote against the bill at the last moment, a procedural move that allows him to resurrect it later.

The legislation, H.R. 240, would provide $39.7 billion to keep Homeland Security operating through September. The agency would face a shutdown of non-essential operations if Congress doesn’t agree on a funding plan by the end of this month.

‘Too Bad’

“That’s the direction we’re heading, and that’s really too bad,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor before the vote.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said Republicans were committing “malfeasance” based on an “anti-immigrant attitude.”

In funding battles over the past five years, Congress hasn’t passed major legislation unless it is on the brink of a deadline, and homeland security funding doesn’t expire until Feb. 27. That means there may be several more unsuccessful attempts at passing a bill before a final deal is reached.

Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner declined to say what the next step would be, suggesting the issue may remain in the Senate.

“We won this fight in the House,” Boehner told reporters. He called on Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama to gain backing for the measure in their chamber.

Carry Weight

During a closed-door session with fellow Republicans Tuesday morning, Boehner rallied members around a theme that Senate Republicans must carry their weight in the fight against Obama’s executive actions, said Representative John Carter of Texas. Carter said he wouldn’t be comfortable with a shutdown of the Homeland Security agency.

“Ultimately, there may be a clean bill soon” that funds the department while leaving Obama’s immigration orders intact, he said.

Other Republicans were drawing a harder line.

“For us conservatives, it doesn’t seem like anything less than what this bill does -- which is defund the president’s executive amnesty -- will be satisfactory,” said Representative John Fleming of Louisiana to reporters.

Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, said one potential move is to pass two Homeland Security funding bills -- one that blocks Obama’s immigration actions and another that leaves the president’s orders untouched. He acknowledged the Senate most likely would pass the second version, but said conservatives would have done all they could.

Temporary Halt

Obama announced Nov. 20 that he would temporarily halt deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. His directive will defer for three years the deportation of people who came to the U.S. as children as well as parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.

The Homeland Security funding bill, which passed the House on Jan. 14, also would reverse protections ordered in 2012 for children brought to the country illegally.

Even as Republicans are seeking to roll back Obama’s orders, they are pursuing another avenue to challenge them. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions said late Monday the chamber will vote next week on a resolution authorizing leaders to sue Obama over his actions.

“I expect that,” said Sessions of Texas, whose committee sets the floor procedures for such votes.

Changing Emphasis

Some Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have begun to say publicly that their party should change its emphasis.

Speaking to reporters on Jan. 21, Rubio said, “I would prefer we would spend the majority of our time actually acting on our immigration reform platform” instead of trying to reverse Obama’s orders.

Separately, Republicans are looking for a way to strengthen U.S. border security. They pulled a $10 billion measure from the House floor last week amid criticism from some Republicans that it should include security improvements inside the U.S., in addition to those at the borders. Democrats said the bill was flawed and partisan.

Some Republicans who serve on the committees with jurisdiction over homeland security and immigration are talking about combining border and interior security bills with legislation including more visas for high and low-skilled workers, according to two Republican aides with knowledge of the discussions.

Two Approaches

Putting the two approaches together is the only way to gather enough support from Democrats and Republicans to rewrite immigration laws, said Stuart Anderson, who led the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George W. Bush.

“We’ve been trying for a real long time to do enforcement alone and it’s just not successful,” Anderson said.

Anderson said a “bracero” program that allowed temporary laborers from Mexico into the U.S. during the 1950s led to a 95 percent decline in border apprehensions from 1953 to 1959. The program ended in 1964.

“The most effective way to reduce illegal immigration is not through just piling on enforcement but to have more visas to have lower-skilled people come in and fulfill jobs,” Anderson said.

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