House will vote Friday to prevent Homeland Security shutdown

Greg Nash

The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency.

If the bill is approved by the House, the Senate is expected to quickly follow suit — though the upper chamber also plans to move forward with a bill funding Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year.

{mosads}Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber.

“I think we’ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it’ll be a very strong vote,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting.

While Rogers and several other Republicans expressed confidence, passing the three-week bill won’t be an easy lift.

House Democrats said they are whipping against the measure, which could make it difficult for Republicans to win the 218 votes necessary for passage given grumbling from some on the right that the measure would do nothing to attack President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they can get to 218 on this,” said one Democratic aide. “It sounds like they are having problems in their own conference and it’s unclear if they can pass it on their own.”

But GOP leaders appeared to head off a potential revolt on Friday morning when they passed the rule for the three-week bill in a 240-183 vote. Had enough disgruntled conservatives joined Democrats in opposing the rule, it could have derailed the legislation.

Still, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), and three North Carolina Republicans, Reps. Walter Jones, Mark Meadows and Mark Walker, all said they’d vote against the short-term measure on final passage.

Brooks said the House Freedom Caucus, a recently formed group of conservatives, will meet later Thursday night to discuss how to approach the issue. That could include whether to vote for the rule to bring the bill to the floor on Friday, Brooks said.

If it becomes law, the short-term measure would extend the fight over Obama’s immigration policies into the third month of the new Republican-controlled Congress. It would further underscore intraparty divisions between House Republicans, who want to stop the president’s immigration actions at all costs, and Senate Republicans, who want to move on.

Still, Senate leaders signaled they could go along with the House bill if it is approved.

When asked by reporters whether the Senate would approve the House measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) nodded yes. A Senate Democratic leadership aide did not offer any statement contradicting the GOP leader, setting the stage for Senate passage of the stopgap.

GOP lawmakers said a three-week measure buys more time for the federal courts to consider a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s policies, which would shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. It also gives Republicans a little more time to pursue a longer-term solution on both Homeland Security funding and halting Obama’s immigration actions.

The House last month passed a bill funding Homeland Security through September but attached GOP amendments aimed at gutting Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The Senate on Friday is expected to pass a so-called “clean” funding bill that is free of those same GOP immigration provisions.

As part of Boehner’s two-pronged strategy, House lawmakers later Friday will vote on a motion to have a conference committee iron out the differences between the House and Senate bills, then leave town for the weekend.

But Senate Democrats have vowed to block any effort by Republicans to conference the bills. There are 54 Republicans in the chamber, but it requires 60 votes to start a conference.

“We will not allow a conference to take place. It won’t happen,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday.

That puts Republicans back in the same situation three weeks from now: Trying to roll back Obama’s immigration policies, but without much leverage to do so. Under the three-week measure, funding for DHS would run through March 19.

The measure “just delays the inevitable,” said moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who’s been urging his colleagues to pass a longer-term clean funding bill without any immigration riders. “I think up to this point, we’ve engaged in an exercise of tactical malpractice. Self-delusion is self-destructive.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said he has “no clue” what the end game is in the DHS funding fight, but said he’s fed up with his party.

“I’ve had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party, which leads us over the cliff and may turn us into the charge of the light brigade,” King said.

Asked to elaborate on what the consequences are for Republicans, King said, “How many times can we go over the cliff and survive?”

Earlier Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was spotted just off the House floor, lobbying lawmakers to pass a clean bill funding his agency through September. 

In a letter to congressional leaders Thursday night, Johnson warned about the harmful impacts of a CR amid global terror threats and deadly winter storms.

“A short-term continuing resolution exacerbates the uncertainty for my workforce and puts us back in the same position, on the brink of a shutdown just days from now,” Johnson wrote.

Alexander Bolton contributed.

Updated at 11:48 a.m. on Feb. 27.

Tags Boehner Harry Reid John Boehner Mitch McConnell Mo Brooks
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