Obama set to ratchet up pressure over Homeland Security funding

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The Obama administration is ratcheting up pressure on Republicans to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which faces a shutdown without action by Congress after Feb. 27. 

Congress appears stuck on the issue because the House is insisting that the funding bill also overturn President Obama’s executive actions on immigration that have provided legal status and work permits to millions of immigrants.

Senate Republicans do not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Democratic filibuster of the House bill, but have been unable to convince their House counterparts to bend. 

The White House believes it holds the upper hand in the battle, and will seek to press its bully pulpit advantage during a recess week for Congress.

On Tuesday, Vice President Biden travels to Baltimore to visit the Maryland State Police forensic laboratory. He’s expected to discuss how Homeland Security funding helps provide training and technical assistance for law enforcement.

The White House will hold its summit for countering violent extremism next week, with the president slated to deliver remarks both Wednesday and Thursday on counterterrorism initiatives. 

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other agency officials are also expected to press the case over the coming days, with one senior official there calling the push for full funding a “huge priority for this department.”

Johnson is trying to convince Republicans to bend.

The department says Johnson has already visited with at least 20 lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the funding situation, and placed more than a dozen phone calls to members. 

“We’re just laying out the facts to anyone who wants to come talk to him,” said the official.

The administration and Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have already repeatedly invoked recent terror attacks in Paris and Canada to pressure Congress on the issue.

“The clock is ticking,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday.

But Republicans are showing no sign of giving in on their demands that the funding bill also overturn Obama’s immigration actions.

On Friday, 170 House Republicans urged Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to drop the Democratic filibuster.

Other hard-line conservatives have said they’re not worried about a shutdown of the agency, and argue it is important to make a stand against Obama’s immigration actions, which they regard as unconstitutional.

Even as DHS lobbies Capitol Hill, it is beginning some of the technical processes involved in preparing for a shutdown.

They’ve had preliminary conversations in recent days with contractors about the possibility they may have to freeze their contracts, and those talks are expected to accelerate in the coming days. That’s likely to ratchet up lobbying efforts from companies who rely on federal funding channeled through DHS.

For Democrats, the challenge will be keeping Republicans boxed in what has become a trap of their own making.

GOP leaders withheld funding for Homeland Security thinking they could create leverage to force the president to roll back his executive actions on immigration.

But the House bill has fallen flat in the Senate, with even opponents of the president’s immigration action — like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refusing to help Republicans invoke cloture.

Complicating the issue is the call from some conservatives in the House for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ MORE (R-Ky.) to invoke the nuclear option and get rid of the filibuster. That’s opened a divide within the party, as McConnell has repeatedly said he intends to restore normal order to the Senate — and fund DHS.

“When you have press conferences where one side is advocating an idea and the other side is shooting it down and they’re in the same party, than the side that is united always has the advantage,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.

Elemndorf and other Democratic strategists say it makes strategic sense for the administration to make their case while lawmakers are back in their home districts for the President’s Day recess, and Republicans are on their heels.

“They have absolutely zero leverage,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Reid. “They're going to have to figure out a way to wrap this thing up. The only question is whether Democrats offer them any sort off ramp, and I can’t see them doing that.”

Progressive groups aligned with the White House have also stepped up their efforts to pressure Republican lawmakers over the spending bill.

Americans United for Change, a group led by former DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse, has purchased advertising on Twitter and Facebook to promote a video mocking Republican infighting.

Meanwhile, immigration activists are holding a series of more than 50 rallies across the country in support of the president’s immigration actions. The “Ready for DACA” rallies, organized by the Alliance for Citizenship, will also help inform illegal immigrants about how the deferred action programs are supposed to work.

Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Al Green (D-Texas), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) are expected to participate, as are top labor leaders. 

Republicans are working hard not to cede the messaging battle. In a rare Sunday show interview on Fox News, House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court Vote House Republicans out MORE (R-Ohio) placed blame for the funding shutdown at the feet of Senate Democrats.

“The House has acted,” Boehner said. “We’ve done our job. Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. And it’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”

But other Republicans are hoping that the time away from Washington can lead to a breakthrough for their party.

“Coming back from recess, hopefully people are well-grounded about the basics,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is facing reelection in 2016 and has called for a clean spending bill. “I think the American people are pretty on-edge about our international security. My hope is when you get them away from the partisan fires of D.C., they will want to pass a clean DHS bill.”