Obama: Immigration fight makes 'no sense'
© Greg Nash

Risking funding for the Department of Homeland Security in a spat over immigration "makes absolutely no sense," President Obama said Tuesday in a meeting with his Cabinet.

"The Department of Homeland Security contains numerous agencies that every single day are keeping the American people safe. They need certainty in order to do their jobs," Obama said.

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"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.”

Obama's comments on Tuesday follow a string of warnings from the White House, which is looking to ratchet up pressure on congressional Republicans to pass a funding bill.

Republicans passed a short-term extension of DHS funding late last year in hopes they could use the threat of a shutdown as leverage to force Obama to roll back his executive actions offering deportation relief and work permits to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.

But Senate Republicans failed in a Tuesday vote to advance the House plan — which Obama has already threatened to veto — leaving GOP leaders scrambling to find alternative riders they could include that might satisfy the far right while also drawing Democratic support.

Following the meeting, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said he had spoken earlier Tuesday with members on both sides of the aisle to stress the need for a clean Homeland Security funding bill.

Johnson said he remained "optimistic" that lawmakers would "do the right thing" and pass funding, and that a shutdown of his department "in these times is frankly too bitter to contemplate."

He warned such a move would mean "cutting back on things that are vital to homeland security and causing terrible disruption with the American public." He also said it was "horribly unfair to ask the people in the critical role of homeland security to come to work and not get paid because Congress can't fund their department."

"The consequences would not be good," Johnson said.

Earlier Tuesday, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBudowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only House Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Press: John Boehner: good author, bad leader MORE (R-Ohio) said Senate Democrats who had expressed opposition to the president's plan were being tested on whether they were "all talk." He also said Republican leaders on that side of the aisle needed to rally votes.

"The fight must be won in the United States Senate," BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBudowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only House Republicans request hearing with Capitol Police Board for first time since 1945 Press: John Boehner: good author, bad leader MORE said. "It's time for Senator [Ted] Cruz [(R-Texas)] and Senator [Jeff] Sessions [(R-Ala.)] and Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats to stand with the American people and to block the president's actions."

— Updated at 4:55 p.m.