House and Senate Republicans offered up plenty of color on Wednesday about the looming shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, but solutions were harder to find.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists expect boom times under Trump Last Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions MORE (R-Ohio) on Wednesday used a news conference to lash out at Senate Democrats, telling them to “get off their ass” and stop blocking a House-passed funding bill — a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP pans Democrats’ T infrastructure package Trump huddles with Senate leaders ahead of Supreme Court battle Sanders: Trump 'delusional' on voter fraud claims MORE (R-Ky.) conceded the Senate was stuck and said it’s up to the House to get Congress out of this jam.
Hours later, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) wandered over to a closed-door Senate GOP lunch and told lawmakers there is neither the appetite nor the votes in his conservative House conference to send over a “clean” DHS bill, free of GOP riders targeting Obama’s immigration moves.
“Both of us have our own math challenges. We obviously need to get to a certain number of votes to pass legislation,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms Trump's UN ambassador McConnell to force vote on Trump's State Department pick Trump continues to insist voter fraud robbed him of popular vote MORE (R-Texas) said after hearing from Scalise.
Despite all the talk, Congress is no closer to solving the DHS funding conundrum. Republicans in both chambers openly admitted they are clueless on how to avert a shutdown at the DHS, slated for Feb. 28.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Finance: Deficit to hit 1B in 2019 | Trump meets with automakers | Inside Mick Mulvaney's confirmation hearings for OMB Webb: What matters now is policy McCain questions Trump budget pick's support for military MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill. “We should not cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate panel votes to confirm Tillerson Rubio to vote for Tillerson Top Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote MORE (R-Tenn.) said a DHS shutdown would be extremely dangerous at a time of growing threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist networks.
“I certainly do not think that’s a good idea at this time, when we have lots of national security interests,” Corker said.
But despite the senators’ pleas, BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists expect boom times under Trump Last Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions MORE and House Republicans said they’re sticking with their original game plan. And some note that Obama has the power to deem DHS employees “essential,” claiming the security argument is overblown.
In the morning House GOP meeting, lawmakers told Gardner and Capito to tell Senate GOP leaders to keep trying to move the House-passed bill, even though Senate Democrats blocked it three separate times last week.
“They said, ‘Well, we’re struck. We’ve got a ceiling of 54 [Senate GOP] votes, and we can’t go any further,’” said conservative Rep. John FlemingJohn FlemingCoast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane Freedom Caucus member to bring up bill on impeaching IRS chief GOP seeks to make it 52 MORE (R-La.). “The reply to them was: ‘Well, you need to go back to work then. ... You go need to go back in session and stay in session until you grind it out.’ ”
Because of next week’s Presidents Day recess, Congress has about seven days left in session before funding runs out at the DHS. One Republican inside the meeting suggested canceling the recess, Fleming said, but both chambers are still on track to leave town Friday.
Democrats hammered the GOP Wednesday in speeches on the House floor on the possibility of a shuttered DHS. They are very confident Republicans will cave and pass a clean bill. And if they don’t, Democrats say the public will blame the GOP — as it did during the 2013 government shutdown.
One senior GOP senator leaned in and whispered to The Hill: “Of course Republicans will get blamed” for a shutdown.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close Boehner ally, said, if the Senate manages to pass a different DHS spending bill, both chambers could go to conference and formulate a compromise, though time is running short.
Other centrist GOP lawmakers have raised the idea of passing another short-term stopgap measure funding the DHS to give Republicans more time to figure out their strategy and prevent a shutdown.
“From a political perspective … you’re better off passing a clean Homeland Security appropriations bill, because it makes a lot of important changes, many of this in the Republican side wanted — more detention beds and all sorts of improvements of border control,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.
But Dent is in the minority of his caucus.
“I think the Speaker’s position is, and our position is, that the House has already acted. It’s time for the Senate to act,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).
“I don’t hear any deviation among my colleagues,” added Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.).
“The Democrats in the Senate have a calculated strategy to deny that funding ... so the ball’s in the Senate’s court, and more particularly, the Democrats in the Senate,” he said.
“They’re the ones putting this country in jeopardy, not the House.”
Cristina Marcos contributed.