Under Pressure on DHS Shutdown, John Boehner Blows Kisses to the Media

The House Speaker did not say how he planned to resolve the prospect of a partial government shutdown.

on February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Win McNamee

What would drive House Speaker John Boehner to blow kisses to the media? Try being caught between hardliners in his conference and a potential shutdown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in less than 48 hours.

In response to a question on what the House's next move will be in the latest Capitol Hill shutdown drama, the Ohio Republican paused, puckered up and blew several air kisses.

Boehner's moment of levity is just one indication of the awkward spot he's in after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut a deal Wednesday with Democrats. McConnell agreed to drop a Republican bid to use Homeland Security funding as leverage to get Obama to reverse his immigration orders. At least 30 to 40 members of his conference want Boehner to keep on fighting, even if it means a partial shutdown of the agency responsible for securing the nation's borders and airports.

The department's funding will expire after Friday.

"When we make decisions I'll let you know,'' Boehner said to surprised reporters after the air smooches. "That's just a kiss, that's all,'' he smirked.

McConnell's deal with Democrats leaves Boehner with few political options. While McConnell's approach would likely pass the House, heading off a shutdown, it could hurt Boehner's standing with rank-and-file Republicans who said he promised them a full-throttle battle over Obama's actions on immigration.

The Senate is in the process of setting up a vote to fund the agency, and Boehner must decide if he will allow his chamber to take up the same legislation.

"If Boehner's going to get it done he ought to bite the bullet and get it done now,'' said New York Representative Peter King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee. "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.''

The other option is to risk a shutdown for which Republicans likely would take much of the blame, according to polls. While Boehner has shown his willingness to break with conservatives in previous congressional standoffs over government funding, this is the first confrontation he's navigating with Republicans now that the party controls both chambers.

In the past, he could blame Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the former majority leader, for refusing to compromise. With Republicans in control, many conservatives now expect a more muscular pushback.

The tensions between Boehner and McConnell over the past few weeks have been apparent, with both leaders saying it's up to the other to take the next step. Yesterday Boehner revealed in a conference meeting that it had been two weeks since he'd spoken with McConnell. The two met later in the day.

How Boehner handles the next 48 hours will be an indication of how much power, in this new Congress, he is going to bestow the restive Tea Party wing of his conference that fueled a 16-day government shutdown over Obamacare in the last Congress.

Republicans like King of New York are urging him to use his expanded majority to send a message to conservatives who want to use funding bills to oppose Obama on a series of policies, from the environment to health care.

On the other side of the debate are members like Steve King of Iowa, who convinced House leaders last month to take aim not only at Obama's November orders but also the president's 2012 directives protecting children from deportation.

For now, Boehner is blaming Democrats for what might be about happen. "It's outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president,'' he told reporters Thursday.

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