GOP struggles with DHS strategy

GOP struggles with DHS strategy
© Getty

Republicans are scrambling to figure out how to avert a shutdown at the Homeland Security Department while gutting President Obama’s immigration actions.

GOP leaders probably won’t settle on a path forward until after next week’s President’s Day recess — right before funding runs out on Feb. 27.

ADVERTISEMENT
The GOP’s task has grown more complicated in recent weeks amid renewed threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Democrats have sought to capitalize upon.

On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought the terrorism threat front and center, describing in graphic detail how a Jordanian pilot was burned alive for 22 minutes at the hands of ISIS. The group has “bragged” it’s coming for America next, Reid said.

“Now, we are 18 days away from having no money for the Department of Homeland Security,” said Reid, who called for the GOP to bring up a “clean” funding stripped of measures attacking Obama’s immigration executive actions. “Republicans are hell-bent on playing chicken with our national security.”

The recent terror activity has shifted the media spotlight away from the fight over Obama’s unilateral actions shielding up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.

Obama will spark more debate over terrorism beginning Wednesday when he sends lawmakers his request to use military force against ISIS. The request will be rigorously debated in a series of hearings on both sides of the Capitol.

The GOP’s next step on DHS funding is unclear. During three separate votes last week, Senate Democrats filibustered the House-passed spending bill, objecting to two GOP riders aimed at rolling back Obama’s executive actions that make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the country.  

Republicans in both the House and Senate are now waiting for the other chamber to go first. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner‘Lone wolf’ characterization of mass murderers is the epitome of white privilege Pelosi urges Ryan to create select committee on gun violence Ex-congressman Michael Grimm formally announces bid for old seat MORE (R-Ohio) recently declared: “The House did its work,” adding that it’s time for the Senate “to get their act together.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) isn’t telegraphing his next move. And other GOP senators say the ball now lies in the House’s court.

“We are unable to get on this bill to amend it. And a result of that, the House is going to have to send us another bill that we can get on,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho).

As the end-of-the-month deadline looms, options to fund the agency are becoming increasingly limited:

·      Republicans could abandon their efforts to use the DHS funding bill as the vehicle to torpedo Obama’s immigration actions, and instead turn to the court system. Some GOP aides point out that the underlying $40 billion bill, authored by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), has things in it conservatives should like, such as more money for Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Secret Service, as well as thousands more detention beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Still, this would be a dramatic climb-down difficult for conservatives in the House to accept.

·     Congress could kick the can down the road and pass another short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), to keep the department funded past the Feb. 27 deadline. That CR could be as short as 30 days, buying Republicans a bit more time to figure out how to fight Obama’s immigration moves.

·     If Senate Republicans and Democrats can work out a compromise funding bill soon, it could be merged with the House-passed DHS bill in a conference committee. But those House-Senate negotiators would have to move fast with the deadline quickly approaching.

If none of those options work, the DHS would shut down, which would set off a blame game in the media.

Just as with the 16-day government shutdown of 2013, Democrats would have the advantage of the bully pulpit. Both Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have already warned that a shutdown would be catastrophic for national security. Over the weekend, Johnson said 30,000 workers would be furloughed if the department closed down.

Republicans believe the American public will find Obama at fault this time around, but they also don’t want to be seen as being soft on terrorism.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he’ll hold a hearing on Thursday examining the threat from ISIS. During an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) warned about ISIS-trained fighters striking American targets but didn’t mention the quandary over DHS funding.

And in an op-ed Monday, McCaul said that Obama’s spending priorities show he’s more concerned with combating global warming than homegrown terrorism.

“I hope that’s the way you write the story, and not that it’s Republicans’ [fault],” conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), an immigration attorney, told reporters. “The president is willing to put the national security of the United States at risk so he can grant 5 million people legal status.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGun proposal picks up GOP support Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters late Monday a CR is always an option, but might not be needed if the House reconsiders their strategy.
 
"That's always, as you know, a possibility around here," he said, chuckling, "but I think it's going to come down to if the House figures out what they can move, because clearly we don't have a bill over here. Appropriations bills originate in the House and it's been demonstrated now that we're not going to get the votes that are necessary to move it through the Senate."