By Alexander Bolton - 02/03/15 02:57 PM EST
The Senate on Tuesday failed to move forward with legislation overturning President Obama’s executive actions on immigration after Democrats united to block it.
Most of the Senate’s 55 Republicans backed the motion to proceed to the House bill in a 51-48 vote, but GOP Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) voted against even considering the legislation.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPelosi urges end to Pentagon's clawback of soldier overpayments Coffman’s stance on climate change disingenuous, irresponsible Bill Murray honored with Mark Twain Prize MORE (R-Ky.) switched his vote to no to preserve his ability to bring the legislation back to the floor, while Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) missed the vote and one earlier in the day because of flight problems from Chicago.
The next step for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unclear.
The language reversing Obama’s executive actions is attached to legislation funding the Homeland Security Department through the end of the fiscal year. Without a new funding bill, the department, which includes the Transportation Security Administration, Secret Service and Coast Guard, would partially shut down after Feb. 27.
Many of the agency’s employees would continue to go to work, but a shutdown would leave Republicans open to criticism from the White House that they are putting security at risk.
Following a lunch with his members Tuesday, McConnell was asked whether he would rule out a “clean” DHS funding bill without policy provisions.
“The way to change a bill is to get on a bill and offer amendments,” McConnell said. “So I think it’s a rather honestly absurd position to say ‘we object to a bill, but don’t want to debate the bill or change the bill.’ I’m perplexed.”
The House bill is a non-starter in the Senate, but it could be difficult to convince House conservatives to back legislation funding the Homeland Security agency that stops short over overturning Obama’s controversial immigration actions, which are allowing millions of people to stay in the United States without being deported.
Congress has little time to find a solution, as lawmakers are only expected to be in session for two more weeks in February, with a week off for President’s Day.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it’s inevitable Congress would pass a DHS spending bill that doesn’t change Obama’s immigration actions.
“We all know this is going to end with a bill funding Homeland Security that goes to the president. We’ll wind up passing a clean bill so why do we wait, why do we agonize?” Reid said.
Asked if there's an option Democrats could accept that's short of a "clean" bill, Reid said "No."
The House legislation would block funding for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain children to get work permits and live in the United States even if they entered the country illegally, or overstayed a visa.
It would also reverse another action from November that would shield the immediate family of citizens and permanent residents from deportation.
Some Republicans expressed concern before the vote that funding for the Homeland Security Department should not be risked over a fight on immigration.
The measure suffered a spate of GOP defections when it passed the House in mid-January.
Ten House Republicans voted against the appropriations bill. Twenty-six voted against the amendment to halt Obama’s executive order on DACA. The amendment was approved narrowly, 218-209.
Several Senate Republicans predicted they could vote several more times on the House-passed Homeland Security bill to increase political pressure on Democrats and show House conservatives they are waging a concerted battle. Some House lawmakers have criticized the Senate GOP of getting ready to give up without a fight.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a leading conservative, predicted McConnell would schedule additional votes on the motion to proceed.
“We need to do everything we can to push what was passed by the House of Representatives through,” he said. “I think we’re going to stay at it, I don’t think we’re just going to walk away from it.”
A senior Senate Democratic aide, however, said McConnell can only bring the motion back to the floor for a vote once before having to redo the lengthy process for ending a filibuster.
If McConnell files again for cloture, a third vote would have to wait until next week.
“That just seems like a stupid waste of time,” said the aide.
Rebecca Shabad contributed.
— This story was updated at 3:36 p.m.