By Alexander Bolton - 02/28/15 06:11 AM EST
House chaos on DHS funding leaves GOP senators fuming
Senate Republicans are fuming over the House GOP’s decision to extend the standoff over the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a move that they say uses up political oxygen and burns precious time on the legislative calendar.
GOP senators say it’s time to move on to other issues, such as the budget, trade legislation, and regulatory and tax reform.
They must defend 24 seats in the 2016 election and worry that voters could soon start to question their ability to govern unless they can move forward with a more substantive agenda.
The fight over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration brought that agenda to a standstill in February, as the threat of a homeland security shutdown thwarted other priorities.
“I just think we ought to move on to other things. I’m not sure how it helps for the American people to have the perception that Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House are at odds with each other,” said Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump's new debate challenge: Silence Senate rivals gear up for debates McCain opponent releases new ad hitting his record MORE (R-Ariz.).
“We have a lot of initiatives I think we could show the American people we can work together on,” he added.
Senate Republicans say there’s no need to extend the battle over immigration given that a federal court in Texas has declared that Obama’s executive action violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
“Why don’t we just look at the court decision in Texas, declare victory and move on?” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeTop GOP chairmen investigating foreign visa program Pence rallies GOP before final stretch Libertarian nominee top choice among veterans MORE (R-Ariz.).
Senate Republicans say they expect the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling on the district level.
“When the judge ruled, that was the way I wanted to end it,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamWeek ahead: Funding fight dominates Congress Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senators buck spending bill over Export-Import Bank MORE (R-S.C.).
House conservatives say they want to pressure Senate Democrats to agree to a bicameral conference, in which the two chambers would hash out a compromise that would both fund homeland security and repeal some of Obama’s orders.
“It’s time for democracy to work and the way our process works is when the House and Senate disagree, they go to conference and work it out,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).
But Senate Republicans say hopes of going to conference are delusional. Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidObama’s November surprise This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Spending fight shifts from Zika to Flint MORE (D-Nev.) ruled out the possibility Thursday.
The goodwill that would be required to revive such a process may never have been there in the first place — and is almost certainly gone after a one-week continuing resolution to fund DHS was finally passed amid near-chaos at the Capitol on Friday night.
“What’s frustrating is that the House guys think any of the Democrats over here are under pressure to vote or cloture. They’re in their own little bubble, it’s myopic,” said a Senate Republican, who requested anonymity to vent his irritation with House colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTop Armed Services Dem lobbies against 9/11 bill McConnell threatens shutdown to keep corporate political spending secret This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress MORE (R-Ky.) has made four unsuccessful attempts to start debate on a House-passed DHS funding bill that included immigration riders.
Democrats only allowed the legislation to advance after McConnell agreed to replace it with a clean funding bill. Not a single Democrat defected.
McConnell and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE (R-Ohio) have appeared out of sync in recent weeks as tensions ratcheted up between the chambers. BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE said Wednesday that he had not spoken with McConnell in two weeks.
Senate Republicans facing tough reelection fights next year have pressed the House in recent days to accept a clean bill funding DHS through September.
“I think the feeling of most people is this is the fight that we should have not fought,” Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US MORE (R-Ill.), a vulnerable incumbent, told reporters. “We really, as a governing party, we’ve got to fund DHS and say to the House, ‘Here’s a straw so you can suck it up.’”
But House Republicans say they have their own message for the Senate: the 60-vote threshold for passing bills in the upper chamber is a poor excuse for inaction.
Boehner ally Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) speaking before the push for a three-week continuing resolution failed, asserted that the move was intended to push back against the Senate as much as anything else. He noted that the implementation of Obama’s executive action will likely be decided by the courts.
“I think the decisive arena is the courts,” he said. “I think this is about holding our own ground and it’s also a message to the Senate. There’s a lot of different levels to this. On some levels it’s Republicans versus Democrats but there’s a lot of House versus Senate.”
Cole said the message to the Senate is, “you really do have to vote on things and you really do have to go to conference.”
“You’re not going to just drop something on us the last day and run out of town,” he said.
Even a one-week stopgap allows House Republicans to save face by not voting on a seven-month clean funding bill while the Conservative Political Action Conference meets in Washington this week. It’s one of the nation’s largest gathering of conservatives and a caving-in to Democrats would incense many attendees.
Conservative critics have pilloried McConnell this week for moving a funding bill stripped of immigration riders.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has surrendered in the fight to stop President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty and now he’s working with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to force American taxpayers to fund the president’s lawlessness,” the Senate Conservatives Fund wrote in an email to supporters.
But GOP senators have praised McConnell for trying to find a way to avert a DHS shutdown.
“Mitch has done a good job. He’s been emboldened,” said one.