It didn’t take long for the first glaring crack to appear in the armor of the new Republican majority on Capitol Hill.
It happened when House Republicans forged ahead with their plan on Tuesday to amend the Department of Homeland Security spending bill – in the process blocking implementation of President Obama’s executive order designed to protect nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation.
Obama has warned he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk – potentially triggering a partial shutdown of the massive department responsible for protecting Americans against terrorist threats when its temporary funding runs out at the end of February.
Senate Republicans say they are highly sympathetic to their House colleagues’ drive to cut off funding to thwart temporary amnesty for millions of undocumented aliens – but apparently not enough to follow them over the cliff barely weeks into the new 114th Congress.
“I don’t even know what the House bill really says,” Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said yesterday. “I do know there’s a lot of consensus on our side that the last thing we need to do is something that jeopardizes the security of our own citizens.”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a Senate GOP leader, told reporters that Republicans in both chambers intend to vent their concern about the president’s controversial unilateral actions on immigration reform, “which a lot of people believe is unlawful and unconstitutional.”
Yet Thune said he doubted the new Republican majority in Congress is prepared to go to the mat with Obama and risk major disruptions in the department. “I don’t see that happening,” he said. “Everybody realizes there are important functions in that department that have to be funded [and] resourced.”
Thune also signaled it would be difficult – if not impossible – to round up six Democratic votes needed for the GOP to reach a 60-vote super majority in order to pass the House version of the spending bill. Instead, the Senate more likely will have to settle on a watered-down version and hope it can get the House to go along. “We’ll figure out what the traffic will bear and what we can do,” he said.
House Republicans’ outrage over this and other presidential executive orders seems real, but their timing is downright awkward: More than a million people marched in Paris last Sunday with 40 presidents and prime ministers to show solidarity after terror attacks killed 17 people in France. Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation that concern about homegrown terror in the U.S. “is something that, frankly, keeps me up at night.”
Many Tea Party and libertarian lawmakers who pressed House Speaker John Boehner last Friday on the spending plan were oblivious, apparently, to how their actions might be perceived amid international turmoil over terrorist attacks. The original goal was to devise a way to deny DHS funding to implement Obama’s executive order while keeping the rest of the agency operating. The core of the bill would provide $39.7 billion to the department, a $400 million increase from the previous fiscal year.
The House GOP strategy agreed to last Friday would amend the DHS spending bill to prevent any funds – either appropriations or fees from immigration applications – from being used to put in effect the protections of the nearly five million illegal immigrants. The plan would also repeal the Deferred Action for the Childhood Arrivals program that Obama unilaterally ordered two years ago, and other relaxed immigration rules.
Yesterday, Democrats warned that Republicans were risking national security by playing legislative games with funding. “Republicans would rather play Russian roulette with our security,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said on the floor at the start of a two-day debate over the bill. “With all that’s going on in France, I ask my Republican colleagues, ‘What are they thinking playing politics with our national security?’”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) said that by loading up the spending bill with poison-pill amendments that would invite a presidential veto, Republicans were risking a partial government shutdown that would jeopardize American service men and women who risk their lives for the country. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) also bluntly told MSNBC that the GOP’s actions have endangered national security.
Republican leaders, waving off criticism, are set to pass the spending measure with all its amendments on Wednesday.
Speaker Boehner insisted the GOP’s battle is not so much about immigration policy as executive overreach. “It’s about the president acting lawlessly,” he said after meeting with rank-and-file members. “Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.”
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