Senate Republicans and Democrats have resolved their differences regarding the $40 billion bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and on Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 25, 2015 they overwhelmingly voted 98 to 2 in favor of advancing the bill to debate stage. The votes comes within hours of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offering the Democrats a clean version of the funding bill, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid agreeing to the vote with reservations about the intentions of Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH. The House GOP is adamant about including immigration provisions to the bill that would defund any of President Barack Obama’s immigration executive actions.
The Senate bill only saw two Republican dissenters, James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is vehemently against passing a DHS funding bill that at the same time does not defund the immigration actions. A final Senate vote on the bill will be held on Thursday, Feb. 26, with just one day to spare before the Feb. 27 deadline where the DHS might be partially shutdown, with most of the staff left working going unpaid. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell urged support for his proposed bill, “The dual-pronged approach I’ve outlined — allowing the Senate to stop ‘unwise and unfair’ overreach on the one hand, and to fund DHS through the fiscal year on the other — is a sensible way forward.” Minority leader Reid who helmed the Democrats objections to the previous bill now said, “We look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the next 24 hours to get this done. All eyes now shift to the House of Representatives.”
Earlier in the day, Reid announced at a press conference that he and Democrats have agreed to vote on McConnell’s proposed clean DHS bill. Speaking to the press, Reid stated, “We have a pathway to vote on this tomorrow. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure it passes by an overwhelming vote. I think virtually every Democrat will vote for that.” Reid however, emphatically indicated should the House of Representatives send back a bill with immigration provisions added to the bill, Senate Democrats will not conference on the bill. Reid pointed out, “This isn’t the time for games. If the House of Representatives led by Speaker Boehner is interested in doing a funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security, it has to be one that has no tricks, no riders. If you send something back, that is vexatious with all these riders and anti-immigrant stuff, he won’t be able to go to conference and he has to understand that.”
Minority Leader Reid has a point about Speaker Boehner, who also spoke to the press on Wednesday after meeting with the GOP conference, where he said he would take “wait-and-see mode” to determine the House’s plan. Boehner remarked at the press conference, “I don’t know what the Senate’s capable of passing and until I see what they’re going to pass, no decisions have been made on the House side.” The speaker is remaining insistent that House has already passed a good DHS funding bill, the same bill that includes immigration defunding provisions, which Senate Democrats have voted down four times already.
Boehner again expressed that “The House has done its job to fund the department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s overreach on immigration, and we’re waiting for the Senate to do their job. Senate Democrats have stood in the way now for three weeks over a bill that should have been debated and passed, and so until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait and see mode.” The speaker acknowledged at his conference meeting that he has not personally spoken with McConnell in two weeks but would today, but to the press he said, “You know, our staffs talked back and forth but Senator McConnell’s got a big job to do and so do I. Our staffs have been talking back and forth but at the end of the day, the Senate has to act. I’ve made it pretty clear over the past couple of weeks, we’re waiting for the Senate to act.” Boehner did not say however, he would let DHS shutdown, a key point as to what he may decide concerning the Senate bill.
Even if Speaker Boehner would be open to the bill, he faces objections from House Republicans. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. and 30 of the most conservative members, wrote a letter on Wednesday to Boehner and the GOP House leadership not to cave to pressure on the clean DHS bill and let him know they are not intending to vote for the bill. They want any DHS funding bill to include immigration defunding measures, not trusting the separate bills that McConnell plans to institute. These same Republican House members are sharply criticizing McConnell for relenting on the combined bill. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-AZ has called the Majority Leader’s compromise is “tantamount to surrender,” and he warned that it “won’t meet with support in the people’s House.”
There are still many in the House willing to on the clean bill because the injunction now in place preventing the immigration actions from unfolding. The injunction has been one factor that has changed the whole dynamic in the fight against Obama executive actions on immigration, late last Monday evening, Feb. 16, 2015 U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, granted the requests of 26 states to block the president’s actions from November with a temporary injunction. Judge Hanen cited that the White House failed “to comply with a law detailing how the federal government must establish regulations.”
Congress has until Friday, Feb. 27 at midnight to pass any kind of spending bill or else the DHS will be shutdown. If that happens 30,000 office workers will be furloughed, and front line staff would continue working, but without pay. They would represent 80 percent of 240,000 employees from “Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.” DHS was the only department not funded for the 2015 fiscal year. Congress expects that they might working into the weekend to ensure the DHS receives its necessary funding.
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.