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 BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return 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 McConnellMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection 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 CornynOvernight Tech: House GOP launches probe into phone, internet subsidies Senators hope for deal soon on mental health bill GOP leader pushes for special counsel to investigate Clinton emails 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 McCainTrump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels 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 CorkerRubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection The Trail 2016: Interleague play 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 BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return 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 FlemingOvernight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns House panel approves Puerto Rico debt relief Path clears for passage of Puerto Rico bill 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.