Terrorist attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in Paris and Sydney have raised the stakes in a looming battle over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, say Republican and Democratic officials.
Senate and House Republicans are warning against a standoff with President Obama and Senate Democrats that could shut down the department tasked with protecting the homeland within weeks of terrorist attacks against Western targets.
They worry the GOP could wind up taking the blame, which is what happened when a dispute over implementation of the Affordable Care Act shuttered the federal government for 16 days.
While Republicans are unified in their desire to reverse the executive order Obama issued after Election Day shielding an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, some are warning Tea Party colleagues such as Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it Australian politician on Cruz, vaccines: 'We don't need your lectures, thanks mate' MORE (R-Texas) not to take the fight too far.
“Defunding that part of the bill that deals with enforcing the executive order makes sense but we can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris. The Department of Homeland Security needs to be up and running,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-S.C.).
Former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) on Friday called it “absolutely essential” that counterterrorism be funded given the spate of attacks around the world.
A Senate GOP aide warned that Democrats would pounce on a departmental shutdown to accuse Republicans of prioritizing the desires of their conservative base over national security.
“There’s no question that if the DHS shuts down in some way, Democrats will do everything to take full advantage of the situation,” the aide said.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Republicans would lose the public relations battle over homeland security, especially after the deadly attacks on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“Republican efforts to play politics with Department of Homeland Security, which is actively engaged against the threat posed by ISIS, is a dangerous and risky move that can backfire,” the aide said, making reference to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“The House proposal is an attempt to throw a hunk of red meat to the right at a time when the nation is at risk for attack,” the aide added.
House Republicans held a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss using the Homeland Security funding bill to fight Obama’s immigration policies, just as authorities in Paris were in two separate standoffs with suspected terrorists.
Leaders “kept emphasizing” the House package would be narrowly tailored toward stopping Obama’s executive actions and would not jeopardize funding for things like border security and counterterrorism measures, said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).
They plan to move legislation next week that would fund the department through the end of the fiscal year along with amendments to block Obama’s unilateral action on immigration, fulfilling a promise many Republicans campaigned on in the fall.
One amendment would halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Obama enacted in 2012 to shield illegal immigrants who came to the county at a young age, continuously resided in the country, and have a clean record.
Another would prohibit the department from using fees to carry Obama’s executive orders, which are otherwise insulated from congressional spending decisions.
Senate Republicans say they will do everything possible to pick off enough centrist Democrats to pass it over the 60-vote hurdle required of most major legislation in the Senate, but Democrats declared it dead on arrival.
“It’s a joke. Not only will it not pass the Senate, it won’t put any pressure on Democrats because it’s way too far to the right,” said a senior Democratic aide.
Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former House and Senate leadership aide, said the GOP would likely get blamed for a homeland security shutdown if they could not get a bill to Obama’s desk.
He said if Obama vetoes the funding bill because of immigration language, “the problem would reside with Obama.”
But he cautioned Obama would only be held responsible if Republicans can actually get the legislation out of the Senate.
“If it gets stuck in legislative quicksand because of immigration and we have a terrorist attack in the United States, the GOP would be in a more precarious position,” he said. “They’re in the majority, they have the responsibility to get the homeland security measure through.”
Democratic leaders feel confident they can stop the House measure, which is expected to pass the lower chamber next week.
Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Sen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is already exploring legislative options that could muster 60 votes in case the House bill flounders.
But some Senate conservatives argue that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill A politicized Supreme Court? That was the point The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings MORE (R-Ky.) should draw a hard line and refuse to pass any Homeland Security funding measure that doesn’t include language rolling back the president’s executive actions.
“The  government shutdown ultimately didn’t matter. It hurt Republicans in the short term but didn’t hut them in the election,” said a conservative GOP aide.
The aide argued that failure to pass a funding bill by the Feb. 27 deadline would not impact the department’s security operations significantly. The aide argued the Antideficiency Act would ensure that essential personal with important security responsibilities would still be required to show up for work.
The aide said Republican lawmakers would face a greater backlash from conservative voters if they backed down on their campaign promises to block Obama’s executive action or postponed a showdown.
“I don’t think that will be well received by conservatives,” the aide said.