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GOP seeks unity vs. Obama on DHS

GOP seeks unity vs. Obama on DHS
© Greg Nash

Republicans plan to force the Senate to repeatedly vote on a controversial House bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security but also overturns President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The strategy has the dual purpose of mollifying conservative House critics who have questioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Republican governor of Arkansas says 'Trump is dividing our party' MORE’s (R-Ky.) resolve and highlighting Democratic obstruction of the measure.

“I think it’s a rather honestly absurd position to say, ‘We object to a bill but don’t want to debate the bill or change the bill.’ I’m perplexed,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Yet some Republicans voiced reservations about the strategy.

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Including this week, Congress is only scheduled to work for three weeks in February, leaving lawmakers with precious little time to work out a solution.

Without a deal, the Homeland Security Department’s funding will expire on Feb. 27 — giving ammunition to a resurgent White House that has argued Republicans are putting security at risk with a fight over immigration.

“I wish we would take no for an answer and figure out the next step,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the debate.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday easily blocked a motion to proceed to the House bill in a 51-48 vote. GOP Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.) defected and joined Democrats. The other Republican “no” vote was McConnell, who switched his vote from “yes” in a procedural move that allows him to bring the legislation to the floor again.

House GOP leaders feeling pressure from conservatives signaled support for their Senate colleagues. “There’s no plan B because this is the plan,” said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), according to Fox News.

Buoyed by polls showing Obama’s approval rating at 50 percent, the administration thinks Republicans will cave and accept a clean bill that will have to pass the House with Democratic votes.

If they do not, the White House expects the GOP will get the blame for a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department. 

For a second day in a row, Obama sought to build public pressure on Republicans.

“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,” he said at a Cabinet meeting.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemings asked about Senate run after sparring with Jordan on police funding Republicans fret over divisive candidates Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (D-Mo.) linked the procedural fights on the Senate floor to a video released showing a hostage being burned alive by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

McCaskill said she was sure McConnell, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBiden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty Maher chides Democrats: We 'suck the fun out of everything' Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only MORE (R-Ohio) and their staffs talk and coordinate on a daily basis now that the GOP has control of both the House and Senate.

“So what do we do right out of the gate? We threaten to shut down the department of our government that protects our homeland, while ISIS is burning prisoners alive on film?” she asked.

GOP senators on Tuesday said Democrats would get the blame.

“It seems like a hard position for them to defend,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Senate poised for all-day brawl over sweeping elections bill MORE (R-Mo.). “The next step is to talk about why they should have voted to debate the bill for a couple days [and] see where that takes us.”

But just weeks ago at a GOP Senate retreat, McConnell urged House Republicans to realize they had to readjust their expectations after the successful midterm elections. While voters increased the GOP’s House majority and delivered the party control of the Senate, McConnell still needs Democratic votes to pass legislation.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynBiden-McConnell cold war unlikely to end at White House There will be no new immigration law under Biden, unless he changes course Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters at the GOP retreat that the House bill could be changed by amendment in the Senate.

The House bill blocks funding for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows certain immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to get work permits and live in the United States, even if they entered illegally or overstayed a visa. It would also reverse another action from November that would shield the immediate family of citizens and permanent residents from deportation.

The measure suffered a spate of GOP defections when it passed the House in mid-January.  Ten House Republicans voted against the appropriations bill. Twenty-six voted against the amendment to halt Obama’s executive order on the DACA.

A slew of Senate Republicans are running for reelection next year in blue states won by Obama. They all voted in favor of the motion to proceed on Tuesday, but it is unclear whether they will vote for the substance of the bill.

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.), perhaps the most vulnerable GOP incumbent up for reelection next year, missed the vote. But his office said he would have voted “yes” on the motion to proceed.

“Senator Kirk believes that those hoping to become American citizens deserve to be governed by laws, not executive orders — but as he has said, shutting down the security functions of the United States government is not effective leadership,” a Kirk aide said in an email.

Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump The Memo: Washington's fake debate on 'bipartisanship' MORE (D-Nev.) said it’s inevitable Congress would pass a bill that doesn’t undermine Obama’s immigration actions.

“We all know this is going to end with a bill funding Homeland Security that goes to the president,” he said. “We’ll wind up passing a clean bill, so why do we wait? Why do we agonize?”

A senior Senate Democratic aide noted that McConnell can only bring the motion back to the floor for a vote once before having to redo the lengthy process for ending a filibuster.

If McConnell files again for cloture, a third vote would have to wait until next week.

“That just seems like a stupid waste of time,” said the aide.  

But a senior GOP senator said Republicans plan to stick to the House bill.

“As far as I know, right now, there’s no Plan B, because if there was a Plan B, you would be admitting failure,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Grassley criticizes Biden's proposal to provide IRS with B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns MORE (R-Iowa).