WH takes hard line on DHS funds

WH takes hard line on DHS funds
© Getty Images

The administration is taking a hard line with congressional Republicans over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with President Obama on Monday warning that Congress was putting national security at risk.

Obama’s admonishment is part of a steady drumbeat of criticism emanating from the White House, and suggests growing Democratic confidence that they can force Republicans to fold.


“The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that,” Obama said during his speech at DHS headquarters. “We need to fund the department, pure and simple.”

Obama is expected to reiterate his call Tuesday during a meeting with his Cabinet.

White House officials made clear they see the battle over Homeland Security funding as both an important priority and a political opportunity.

“First, the funding is important on its merits — it’s for the people who work on our national security,” said one senior administration official. “But this is also another example of 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’s self-described ‘stumbles,’ and their inability to sort things out among themselves.” 

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) last week acknowledged that internal divisions in his conference had derailed action on a border security bill and anti-abortion legislation, describing the episodes as stumbles.

GOP leaders withheld funding for Homeland Security thinking they could create leverage to force the president to roll back his recent executive action on immigration reform.

Instead, a House bill undoing Obama’s executive actions has fallen flat in the Senate, leaving lawmakers little time to reach a solution. The agency’s funding lapses after Feb. 27.

Without enough Democratic votes to overcome a filibuster, Republican leaders are scrambling to find a way to craft a bill that could win over Democrats while also satisfying conservative members of their conference.

The House’s Homeland Security funding bill would undo the actions Obama took after the midterm elections to offer protections from deportations to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants. It would also undo Obama’s actions from 2012 that provided legal status and work permits to children who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

There had been some suggestion that Republican leaders could add elements of their border security bill to the funding package to win over conservatives. That legislation includes $10 billion in new spending for drones, surveillance systems, radar, fencing and other technologies.

But the border bill itself has been controversial with the Tea Party, making it unclear how much the move would help.

In a memo last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said leaders would be “discussing with the conference the best way to continue to challenge the president’s unconstitutional authority,” if the Senate does not pass a bill blocking Obama’s executive action.

The White House hasn’t been approached by Republican leaders about the possibility of adding provisions to the bill, according to the senior administration official. 

And while the administration isn’t ruling out the possibility of striking a deal, there’s also a sense that leverage for a clean bill is increasing as time is dwindling.

Budget Director Shaun DonovanShaun L. S. DonovanFive things to watch in the New York City mayoral race Poll finds Yang with big lead in NYC mayor's race Yang leans into outsider status in run for NYC mayor while critics question experience MORE said Monday that it was “critical” to secure funding “right now” and that the department “obviously is a critical part of protecting our country.”

Last week, the White House circulated a letter from three former DHS secretaries, including two Republicans, warning that recent cyberattacks and the shooting at a French satirical newspaper underscored the need for a deal.

Obama, for his part, appealed directly to DHS workers, warning that tens of thousands of border patrol agents, transportation screeners and members of the Secret Service might have to forgo paychecks is funding isn’t secured.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans were looking to deflect blame back on Democrats for the stalemate.

Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner, noted that it was Senate Democrats who were threatening to filibuster the House bill funding the department and rolling back the president’s executive actions.

“Americans are looking for real solutions, not political stunts,” Fritz said. “As Speaker Boehner reminded President Obama last month, the president told the American people 22 times he could not take the unilateral immigration actions that he did. ... The House has acted in strong fashion to pass a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security and blocks President Obama’s executive overreach, and now it’s the Senate’s turn.”

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel On The Money: Incomes, consumer spending soared in March | Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package | Biden cancels some border wall construction Senators push to allow for remote voting during national crisis MORE (D-Ill.), Senate minority whip, told USA Today he believed Republicans were looking to hold the line now, so Boehner could “show extremists in his caucus that this approach won’t fly in the Senate.” 

“The Republicans are more frightened by ‘Dreamers’ than by ISIS,” Durbin said. “I welcome the debate.”