Senate edges away from DHS shutdown

Senate edges away from DHS shutdown
© Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Congress appeared to step back from the brink of a partial government shutdown Wednesday as the Senate voted overwhelmingly to move forward with a clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Senate opened debate on the bill in a 98-2 vote after Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStudy: Trump tops recent GOP presidents in signing bills in first 100 days Senate passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown Let’s never talk about a government shutdown — ever again MORE (R-Ky.) agreed to strip out provisions that would reverse President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. 

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The vote broke a weeks-long stalemate in the upper chamber and appeared to pave the way for passage of the clean bill later this week, potentially as early as Thursday.

But while senators seem eager to stave off a shutdown of the DHS at midnight on Friday, the fate of the bill in the House remains unclear.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) repeatedly declined to take a position on the bill at a brief press conference, emphasizing that it’s up to the Senate to act on funding.

“Until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE said.

An overwhelming vote in the Senate for the clean bill could strengthen the Speaker’s hand, should he choose to defy conservatives and drop demands for defunding Obama’s immigration order.

A whip list compiled by The Hill indicates a growing split in the House GOP conference over whether to back McConnell’s gambit. Though some conservatives are vocally opposed, many appear ready to let the fight over Obama’s deportation deferrals play out in court.

Democrats, meanwhile, quickly united behind the clean bill.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it passes by an overwhelming vote,” Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road MORE (D-Nev.) said.

Congress has only two days left to prevent the DHS from closing down. Should the funding be allowed to lapse, “essential” employees at agencies like the Coast Guard, Secret Service and U.S. Customs Service and Border Protection would work without pay, while thousands of others would be furloughed.

The White House has warned that a Homeland Security shutdown would threaten national security, and on Wednesday amplified its calls for a clean bill funding the department.

“We’re confident that the right thing to do is for Congress to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has a budget that allows them to be funded through the end of the year,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “That’s seems like a pretty basic responsibility.”

Boehner is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday where he could say what he plans to do next.

Should Boehner choose to bring a clean bill to the floor, Democrats would need to deliver a significant number of votes.

Democratic leaders warned that conservatives in the Senate could hold up the funding measure, but staunch opponents of Obama’s immigration action, including Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump in campaign mode at NRA convention Trump’s hands are tied on 9th Circuit Schumer: Trump's handling of North Korea 'all wrong' MORE (R-Texas) and Mike LeeMike LeeWhy is the State Department refusing to disclose Soros' involvement in Macedonia? What to know about Trump's national monuments executive order ObamaCare must be fixed before it collapses MORE (R-Utah), voted to advance the bill Wednesday. Sens. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsNew chief selected for Justice Department unit overseeing Russia probe Sessions: Some judges ‘using the law to advance an agenda’ Sessions on Flynn: ‘You don’t catch everything’ MORE (R-Ala.) and James InhofeJames InhofeTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations Optimism rising for infrastructure deal Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate MORE (R-Okla.) were the only defectors.

A day earlier, Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, had called McConnell’s new plan a “mistake.”

The timing on a final Senate vote remains unclear. Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate's No. 2 Republican: Border tax 'probably dead' McConnell: Senate will pass short-term funding bill to avoid shutdown The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Texas) said it might not happen until Sunday unless there is unanimous consent.

Still, he appeared confident that a shutdown could be avoided, saying, “I think we’ll meet the deadline.” He declined to say whether a short-term continuing resolution might be needed to keep the DHS open.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. Depends on the House. It takes us a little longer to act over here because of the Senate rules, so the House can vote pretty quickly,” he said.

House conservatives have other ideas.

Rep. Mo BrooksMo BrooksThe Hill's Whip List: 21 GOP no votes on new ObamaCare replacement bill Freedom Caucus gets to yes on healthcare Centrists push back on new ObamaCare repeal plan MORE (R-Ala.) said “there’s no way on God’s green Earth” he would vote for a funding bill that didn’t defund Obama’s actions. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) downplayed the impact of a DHS shutdown, saying it would only result in a “slowdown of the agency.”

“I don’t think there’d be any impact on the day-to-day life of Americans. They’ll wake up the next morning, all the media will talk about it, and people will say, ‘Well, what difference does it make?’ ” Huelskamp added.

Other House Republicans said they are ready to accept a funding bill without the immigration riders.

“If a clean bill comes here, we have to accept a vote on it,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who has been critical of his colleagues during previous funding showdowns.

King suggested the GOP brand would suffer if the agency were to shut down.

“People think we’re crazy. There are terrorist attacks all over the world and we’re talking about closing down Homeland Security. This is like living in a world with crazy people,” King said.

King acknowledged that view is “probably not” shared by the majority of his conference, but predicted a clean bill would pass in the House with Democratic support.