Congress may have come at the 11th hour with a one-week funding continuing resolution stopgap spending bill for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before the midnight deadline on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, but it may have caused lasting damage to the Republican Party in Congress, but particularly the House GOP leadership and John Boehner’s, R-OH speakership. After 10 p.m. with just two hours to the midnight deadline, the House voted 357 to 60 to pass a one-week. The Senate passed the bill earlier in the evening with four hours to spare, after the House failed to secure a three-week extension earlier in the afternoon. President Barack Obama swiftly signed the bill before midnight, but a fight still remains to fund DHS through September.
When Congress finally passed the one-week extension, President Obama and the DHS were already in contingency mode planning for a partial shutdown at midnight. Late Friday afternoon, the president met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan in the Oval Office to discuss contingency plans. After the meeting the White House released the DHS plan, a “46-page document” that revealed that the DHS would have functioned at 87 percent, mostly with “excepted” or “essential” workers at the front lines continuing to work, but without pay, meanwhile 30,000 with administrative jobs would have been furloughed. Still the president also looked to the Democratic leadership in Congress, both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, calling and asking for their help to pass the bill. Pelosi’s opposition to the three-week bill also contributed to its failure.
The House would never have passed the one-week continuing resolution extension without the support and prodding of Pelosi. Supposedly her and Democrats change of hearts from fierce opposition to a three-week extension to acceptance of a one-week one was because the GOP leadership promised a vote on the clean Senate passed funding bill, although that has not been confirmed. Still Pelosi along with Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD held a brief press conference before the vote where Pelosi read a letter to her conference urging their support for the bill. Pelosi read, “Thank you for your cooperation on the vote earlier today. Our unity was a strong statement that the Department of Homeland Security must be fully funded. 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.”
The Senate first introduced the bill early Friday evening, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY and Minority Leader Reid announced the bill together on the Senate floor both arguing for their parties to support the bill. After the bill passed with a voice vote at around 9 p.m., both leaders thanked their parties for support. McConnell expressed, “I thank all senators for working to pass this one-week extension for the Department of Homeland Security.” While Reid also expressed, “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 C.R. tonight and there will be full funding for the Department of Homeland Security.”
The minority leader however, became far more partisan, in his personal statement after the House failed to pass the three-week extension. The stopgap bill was almost a sure thing Friday morning, until conservative Republicans revolted in the afternoon, because it did include measures to defund Obama immigration executive actions. House GOP leadership gave the three-week bill option, because they believed in that time the injunction ruled in their favor in federal court would be upheld, or that defunding provisions could be agreed upon with the Senate during conference. That was not enough for impatient conservative Republicans. In the end, the vote failed 203 to 224, with only 12 Democrats voting for the measure and 52 conservative Republicans opposing it. It was a stinging defeat for Speaker Boehner, for being unable to keep his party in line.
Reid attacked the House GOP saying, “The Republican Congress has shown that it simply cannot govern. 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.” While Minority Whip Dick Durbin personally insulted Boehner’s leadership, stating, “Speaker Boehner is out of cards to play here – he must put the clean, Senate-passed bill on the floor now or risk a homeland security shutdown.”
Speaker Boehner and the GOP House not only faced the Senate Democrats ire, but that of Senate Republicans for that stunt and failure on Friday. In 2016, they have 24 seats up for reelection, ineptitude might cost the GOP the Senate control they just regained. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ commented, “I just think we ought to move on to other things. I’m not sure how it helps for the American people to have the perception that Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House are at odds with each other. We have a lot of initiatives I think we could show the American people we can work together on.”
Other GOP senators believe Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling and injunction on the immigration actions will be upheld by Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the issue should be dealt with by courts for now. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ said, “Why don’t we just look at the court decision in Texas, declare victory and move on?” while Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C stated, “When the judge ruled, that was the way I wanted to end it.” The Senate GOP realize they cannot win attaching provision to the DHS bill, Reid will not conference with the House on the matter. Even if the separate bill McConnell plans to put to a vote defunding the actions passes Congress, President Obama has promised a veto.
When the one-week extension bill finally came to President Obama’s desk, he signed it without much fanfare, with the White House just issuing a short one-line statement about the fact. The bill’s passage was hardly a victory just one hard fought battle to keep the department open. The fight is just beginning this week, Friday morning the Senate passed a clean $40 million bill funding DHS for the rest of the fiscal year with a vote of 68 to 31. The bill is part of a deal made by McConnell earlier in the week that where he presented a clean bill to the Reid and the Democrats liking, but he will also present a bill defunding Obama immigration actions, sparing nearly 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.
Senate Democrats and Republicans both wanted Speaker Boehner to have passed that bill on Friday instead of a continuing resolution. The bill does not have Republican support like in the Senate, and he would require Democratic votes, which he can easily get. On Friday, Minority Leader Pelosi urged the speaker to put the bill to a vote, pleading, “Give us a vote, Mr. Speaker. Give us a vote. I would just like to ask my colleagues who have been advocating for a shutdown, or take us to the brink of a shutdown over and over again, if they would like to live without being paid as members of Congress…[The federal workforce doesn’t] have trust funds. That may come as a surprise to you. Perhaps you do and maybe that’s why you don’t think living – not getting a paycheck is a big deal.”
Boehner’s entire speakership would be on the line if he puts the Senate’s clean bill up for a vote, the conservative faction or freedom caucus is already talking about a coup; the minute Boehner would put the bill up for a vote there would a motion introduced to strip him of his leadership post. Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, who is a Democrat, discussed the “rumblings” in the House to CNN, “Right now, we have to get serious, I think a lot of people better get serious about governing and it’s time for all of these, you know D.C. games to end. I mean all these palace coups or whatever the hell is going on around here has to end, and we have to get down to business of governing.”
Conservatives did not want him returned to the speaker slot this session at all, and he barely survived the vote in January. The antics of the most conservative members of the House are putting the whole country in peril and the credibility of the Republican Party, and their election chances in 2016. Legitimate GOP members in Congress concerned about governing for the best interest of their constituents and the country are facing roadblocks, Boehner is either going to have to face the risks of governing by doing what is best for the country, or bowing down to a faction, and putting his speakership ahead of all else.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.