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GOP seeks unity vs. Obama on DHS

GOP seeks unity vs. Obama on DHS
© Greg Nash

Republicans plan to force the Senate to repeatedly vote on a controversial House bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security but also overturns President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The strategy has the dual purpose of mollifying conservative House critics who have questioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE’s (R-Ky.) resolve and highlighting Democratic obstruction of the measure.

“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,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Yet some Republicans voiced reservations about the strategy.

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Including this week, Congress is only scheduled to work for three weeks in February, leaving lawmakers with precious little time to work out a solution.

Without a deal, the Homeland Security Department’s funding will expire on Feb. 27 — giving ammunition to a resurgent White House that has argued Republicans are putting security at risk with a fight over immigration.

“I wish we would take no for an answer and figure out the next step,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the debate.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday easily blocked a motion to proceed to the House bill in a 51-48 vote. GOP Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThe siren of Baton Rouge Big Republican missteps needed for Democrats to win in November What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (Nev.) defected and joined Democrats. The other Republican “no” vote was McConnell, who switched his vote from “yes” in a procedural move that allows him to bring the legislation to the floor again.

House GOP leaders feeling pressure from conservatives signaled support for their Senate colleagues. “There’s no plan B because this is the plan,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), according to Fox News.

Buoyed by polls showing Obama’s approval rating at 50 percent, the administration thinks Republicans will cave and accept a clean bill that will have to pass the House with Democratic votes.

If they do not, the White House expects the GOP will get the blame for a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department. 

For a second day in a row, Obama sought to build public pressure on Republicans.

“The notion that we would risk the effectiveness of the department that is charged with preventing terrorism and patrolling our borders, making sure the American people are safe makes absolutely no sense,” he said at a Cabinet meeting.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mo.) linked the procedural fights on the Senate floor to a video released showing a hostage being burned alive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

McCaskill said she was sure McConnell, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio) and their staffs talk and coordinate on a daily basis now that the GOP has control of both the House and Senate.

“So what do we do right out of the gate? We threaten to shut down the department of our government that protects our homeland, while ISIS is burning prisoners alive on film?” she asked.

GOP senators on Tuesday said Democrats would get the blame.

“It seems like a hard position for them to defend,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRussian assault on 'American idea' enables Trump to take tough action Eleven lawmakers have used campaign funds to pay NRA dues: report Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers MORE (R-Mo.). “The next step is to talk about why they should have voted to debate the bill for a couple days [and] see where that takes us.”

But just weeks ago at a GOP Senate retreat, McConnell urged House Republicans to realize they had to readjust their expectations after the successful midterm elections. While voters increased the GOP’s House majority and delivered the party control of the Senate, McConnell still needs Democratic votes to pass legislation.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters at the GOP retreat that the House bill could be changed by amendment in the Senate.

The House bill blocks funding for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to get work permits and live in the United States, even if they entered 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.

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 the DACA.

A slew of Senate Republicans are running for reelection next year in blue states won by Obama. They all voted in favor of the motion to proceed on Tuesday, but it is unclear whether they will vote for the substance of the bill.

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (Ill.), perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbent up for reelection next year, missed the vote. But his office said he would have voted “yes” on the motion to proceed.

“Senator Kirk believes that those hoping to become American citizens deserve to be governed by laws, not executive orders — but as he has said, shutting down the security functions of the United States government is not effective leadership,” a Kirk aide said in an email.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) said it’s inevitable Congress would pass a bill that doesn’t undermine Obama’s immigration actions.

“We all know this is going to end with a bill funding Homeland Security that goes to the president,” he said. “We’ll wind up passing a clean bill, so why do we wait? Why do we agonize?”

A senior Senate Democratic aide noted that 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.  

But a senior GOP senator said Republicans plan to stick to the House bill.

“As far as I know, right now, there’s no Plan B, because if there was a Plan B, you would be admitting failure,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa).