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McConnell puts squeeze on House

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 is shifting tactics, saying Tuesday he is willing to allow a vote on a “clean” bill funding the Department of Homeland Security that would prevent a shutdown.

The Kentucky Republican said the legislation would be stripped of language attacking President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration. That move has set up a fight with House Republicans, with fewer than 80 hours to the DHS shutdown deadline.

“I’ve indicated to [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.)] that I’d be happy to have his cooperation to advance the consideration of a clean DHS bill, which would carry us through until Sept. 30,” McConnell told reporters after a GOP conference meeting. “With Democratic cooperation on a position they have been advocating for the last two months, we could have that vote very quickly.”

McConnell said he would be willing to vote on the clean measure before considering a separate bill that would prohibit the administration from implementing Obama’s executive actions shielding the immediate family members of citizens and permanent legal residents from deportation.

The new strategy from McConnell raises pressure on 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 sets in motion a legislative chess game with Reid.

Even though McConnell’s plan would appear to give Senate Democrats exactly what they want, Reid said he first wanted assurances from BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE that the bill would pass the House.

“Unless the Speaker is in on the proposal — of course we have to make sure that we can get a bill to the president, not that we send a hot potato to Boehner,” Reid said.

“That doesn’t do the trick,” he said of McConnell’s proposal.

It is far from clear that Boehner can win a majority of House Republican votes for a clean Homeland Security funding bill. The Speaker is scheduled to hold a crucial meeting of his conference Wednesday morning.

“The Speaker has been clear: The House has acted, and now Senate Democrats need to stop hiding. Will they continue to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security or not?” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.

Asked whether his boss warned Boehner of the new tack, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said, “I don’t have any readouts about their meetings. They update each other all the time.” 

The GOP leaders have different considerations. McConnell has his eye on November 2016 and retaining his new majority in the upper chamber against a tough map. Boehner isn’t worried about losing the House, which would require Democrats to win 30 seats; what he has to worry about is igniting another Tea Party revolt that has previously threatened his Speakership.

Reid’s statement sparked exasperation among Republicans.

“Apparently inspired by President Obama’s own over-reach, Sen. Reid is now shamelessly threatening to filibuster a clean Homeland Security funding bill,” said a senior GOP House aide.

“Sen. Reid said, ‘Pass a clean funding bill.’ Sen. [Dick] Durbin [D-Ill.] said, ‘Pass a clean funding bill.’ You guys all went to a press conference today where they said, ‘Pass a clean funding bill,’ ” Stewart told reporters. 

By withholding their support, Democrats can extend the fight in an issue where the clock is now firmly on their side. McConnell’s move suggests he fears his party would take the bigger political hit from a shutdown.

He conceded Tuesday that he did not know how the GOP-led House would react.

“I don’t know what the House will do but I do think we have a responsibility to act here,” McConnell said.

McConnell hopes House Republicans will be placated by his strategy to force Senate Democrats to vote on the 2014 immigration order. It would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, and seven Democrats are on record questioning Obama’s decision to circumvent Congress to protect millions of illegal immigrants.

It appears unlikely that most of those Democrats would back the Republican bill, but it could be a tough vote.

One of the Democratic centrists, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Mueller indictment reveals sophisticated Russian manipulation effort GOP cautious, Dems strident in reaction to new indictments MORE (Va.), said he would oppose the immigration measure, dismissing it as Republican “gamesmanship.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (W.Va.) signaled support.

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's (Mo.) office said that she would vote for cloture on the bill, but wants DHS to be cleanly funded first.

Conservative groups pushed Boehner on Tuesday to reject McConnell’s plan, with Heritage Action for America announcing it would count any vote for a clean bill as a negative mark on its legislative scorecard.

House conservatives and Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (R-Ala.) urged the Speaker to hold his ground.

“The House of Representatives acted wisely, properly, funding Homeland Security and not allowing activities to be carried out that are unlawful and that Congress has rejected,” Sessions said. “Now, there are some even on the Republican side that say, ‘Oh, gosh, you know the president will blame us even if it’s not our fault and we might as well cave in and give him what he wants.’ ”

Other Senate Republicans, however, urged Boehner to embrace McConnell’s plan.

“I think it’s a good solution to the problem — you have a debate on whether or not the executive action is good policy, lawful, and you don’t put at risk the funding of DHS at a time when we need all of our defenses up and running,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.). “I just hope our House colleagues understand that the growing threats against our nation are real.

He added, a “shutdown goes badly for us.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas), the Tea Party firebrand and a leading proponent of reversing Obama’s executive orders with the funding bill, initially declined to comment, telling reporters to contact his office.

In a statement later released by his office, he called the new strategy a “mistake.”

“Leadership’s current plan — to pass clean DHS funding and separate legislation barring executive amnesty — is a mistake. Congress is obliged to use every constitutional check and balance we have to rein in President Obama’s lawlessness, and that includes both our confirmation authority over nominees and the power of the purse.”

 This story was updated at 10:58 p.m.

— By Alexander Bolton and Rebecca Shabad, Scott Wong contributed.