Lawmakers race to prevent shutdown of DHS at midnight

Greg Nash

Leaders in the House and Senate are racing to prevent a shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that will begin at midnight unless Congress approves a funding bill.

The Senate late Friday approved by unanimous consent a continuing resolution [CR] that would fund DHS for one week, and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is “confident” the House would pass the bill before a partial government shutdown begins.

“Progress has been made all during the day. I appreciate… the cooperation of everyone involved. I’m confident the House will pass a seven-day CR tonight and there will be full funding for the Department of Homeland Security,” Reid said.

Leaders were forced to move to the one-week bill after a three-week version was defeated in the House earlier Friday in a stunning vote.

The bill failed 203-224, with 52 Republicans voting against legislation that was set to fund the DHS and its associated agencies through March 19. Twelve Democrats voted for it.

The House is now expected to move to a vote on the Senate-passed one-week CR. If the measure is brought up under suspension of the rules, as expected, it would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

Under that scenario, Democrats would have to help get the funding bill across the finish line and to President Obama’s desk.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a letter late Friday urged her caucus to vote for the one-week funding bill, telling her members that it will “assure that we will vote for full funding next week.”

“We are asking you once again to help advance passage of the Senate passed, long-term funding of DHS by voting in favor of a 7-day patch that will be on suspension in the House tonight,” Pelosi wrote.

Back at the White House, Obama met in the Oval Office with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to discuss shutdown preparations, according to the White House.

The president also called Pelosi and Reid for updates on the legislative maneuvering in Congress.

The decision from Pelosi to back the one-week CR could be pivotal, as House Democrats declined to provide votes for a DHS bill earlier in the day, when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team were handed a humiliating defeat on the three-week funding bill.

Republicans had bet the short-term bill could be approved with some help from Democrats. But the minority party was determined to force Republicans to pass it on their own, despite the White House’s signal that Obama could support the measure.

With Democrats united against the bill, the GOP could afford to lose only 28 of its own members.

The 15-minute vote began at 4:23 p.m., and was held open for 52 minutes as GOP leaders scrambled to try and flip votes to get the bill over the finish line.

Boehner grilled Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) on the floor about his vote, while House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) huddled with deputy whip Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.).

DesJarlais did not change his mind.

Democrats mocked the GOP’s struggles, recalling how Boehner admonished members this week for not following the chamber’s dress code.

“Madame Speaker, am I not properly dressed?” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) shouted from the microphone. “My shoes are polished.”

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), who on Thursday said he’s “had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party,” stood stone-faced as the “no” votes against the CR piled up.

The vote was gaveled to a close at 5:15 p.m., with GOP leaders more than a dozen votes short of a majority.

Conservatives rallied against the three-week bill because it would do nothing to overturn Obama’s actions on immigration. They are demanding that the bill include riders to block deportation deferrals and work visas for illegal immigrants.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who voted for the three-week CR, said he had heard “rumblings” before the vote that there might be enough opposition to take the bill down.

“It’s a tough position for leadership right now. They’ve got to sort it all out and call a new play,” Womack said.

One potential move for Boehner would to bring up a clean bill passed by the Senate on Friday that would fund the DHS through September without reversing Obama’s immigration actions.

Earlier in the day, the House voted to form a conference committee with Senate on the clean bill, which could prevent Boehner from bringing it up again.

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Boehner still has the option.

“We still have the Senate bill in our possession, we just clarified that with the parliamentarian, it hasn’t gone back yet. … The House, after voting on a conference committee report, can send it whenever it wants, and as of right now it’s still here.”

“They’ve got until midnight. … They could go up to [the] Rules [Committee] and do it in a second,” he said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on CNN pushed Boehner to bring up the long-term funding bill, promising Democrats would vote “overwhelmingly, if not unanimously” in favor of it.

“What is improper is to pretend that this situation will be different 21 days from now,” Hoyer said.

If DHS funding is not approved, employees of agencies such as the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement could soon be forced to work without pay. Thousands of other officials would be furloughed.

Obama and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson have warned for weeks that a shutdown of the DHS would threaten national security.

“Two months into the Republican Congress, we are already staring a Homeland Security shutdown square in the face, even as terrorists around the world threaten to strike America,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement after the House vote.

“The Republican Congress has shown that it simply cannot govern.”

— Last updated at 9:11 p.m. 

Cristina Marcos, Scott Wong, Mike Lillis and Ben Kamisar contributed. 

Tags Homeland security Illegal immigration Immigration John Boehner Mitch McConnell

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