Senate Democrats Demand Boehner Support of Homeland Security Plan

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers reporters' questions during a brief news conference outside the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol July 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. McConnell did not take any quesitons about the announcement by Tea Party activist Ted Blevin that he will challenge McConnell in the 2014 GOP primary in Kentucky.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans are willing to vote this week on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September while acting separately to block President Barack Obama’s immigration orders.

Senate Democrats immediately demanded an endorsement of the plan from House Speaker John Boehner before they will agree. Boehner’s office refused. The speaker plans to discuss the matter with lawmakers at a private strategy meeting Wednesday, and some members urged Republican leaders in a letter to “stand firm.”

“The speaker has been clear: The House has acted, and now Senate Democrats need to stop hiding,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “Will they continue to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security or not?”

Financing for the department is set to lapse after Friday and the agency would face a partial shutdown unless Congress provides new money.

“We’re willing to debate anything they want dealing with immigration after we fund Homeland Security,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “Unless Boehner’s in on the deal, it won’t happen.”

Republicans have insisted on using a Homeland Security spending bill to reverse Obama’s decision to ease deportation for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The Senate failed a fourth time Monday to advance a House-passed bill that linked the two issues.

Tea Party

Boehner has been under intense pressure from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party to make that stand after the speaker promised such a battle in 2015 to his rank and file.

In the letter to Boehner and other leaders, a group of House Republicans urged them to keep language blocking Obama’s immigration orders in the Homeland Security funding bill. Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he has collected 20 signatures.

McConnell said the Senate will take a procedural vote Friday on a separate immigration measure. The chamber may vote on Homeland Security funding before then, said the Kentucky Republican.

“I don’t know what’s not to like about this,” McConnell said. “This is an approach that respects both points of view.”

If an agreement can’t be reached this week, another option that has been under consideration is a 30-day Homeland Security funding bill, said a congressional aide who sought anonymity last week to describe private talks.

Security Planning

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said a stopgap funding bill would harm security planning by the national agency and local officials.

McConnell had earlier offered a separate bill on immigration without mentioning how the Homeland Security Department would be funded. Democrats rejected that approach Tuesday.

“Let’s fully fund our security,” said New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “And then let’s debate immigration reform.”

McConnell’s move distinguishes his leadership style from that of Boehner, who has allowed the demands of Tea Party-aligned lawmakers to bring the government to the brink of a shutdown before reaching a compromise. A 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013 was triggered by a dispute over funding Obamacare.

Strategy Tug-of-War

McConnell and Boehner of Ohio have been in a tug-of-war over strategy. Two weeks ago, McConnell declared the Homeland Security bill “clearly stuck in the Senate” and said the next step was up to the House. Boehner, though, insisted “the House did its job” and the Senate must make the next move.

Even if the leaders had persuaded Senate Democrats to support the House bill, Obama would have vetoed it.

Obama told the nation’s governors that a shutdown of the agency will affect the economy and the nation’s security.

“These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states,” Obama told members of the National Governors Association at the White House Monday. “It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security, because their hard work helps to keep us safe.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said a shutdown would require 75 percent to 80 percent of his employees, including border patrol agents and members of the Coast Guard, to work without pay. The department would have to furlough 30,000 employees, including much of the headquarters staff.

‘Skeleton’ Staff

“Every day I press the staff at my headquarters to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIL and threats to our aviation security,” Johnson said in a news conference Monday, referring to the terror group Islamic State. “If we shut down, that staff is cut back to a skeleton.”

While Republican leaders were trying to pin the blame on Democrats, some Republicans warned that their party would shoulder the responsibility for any disruptions.

“For God’s sakes, don’t shut down the premier homeland security defense line called the Department of Homeland Security,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Monday on the “Fox & Friends” program. “If we do, as Republicans, we’ll get blamed.”

A new CNN/ORC poll showed that 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress for a shutdown, while 30 percent would blame Obama. A majority said a shutdown, even for only a few days, would be a crisis or a major problem.

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