Well, nobody thought it would be easy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday held a vote on House-passed legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. It would also block President Obama from taking action on his executive orders to ease the deportation threat for millions of illegal immigrants.
Not surprisingly, Senate Democrats filibustered it – voting to defeat a measure that would have begun debate. The majority of the Senate voted to start the debate, 51-48, but the vote required a three-fifths majority to pass. One Republican, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, voted with the Democrats; McConnell did as well but only to preserve his ability to bring the bill back to the floor.
The result is the first step on what will likely be a tough road for McConnell. He has to find a way to navigate between the fire-breathing opposition to Obama in the House and a Senate where Democrats can still block legislation.
The House-passed bill directly challenges Obama, who angered congressional Republicans with his executive orders on immigration over the past 18 months. In addition to the move limiting deportation, Obama also blocked the deportation of some illegal immigrants brought here as children.
McConnell’s decision to allow the vote Tuesday was largely symbolic. The filibuster was predictable – and Obama has vowed to veto the bill anyway. However, it gave the strongest conservatives in the Senate the chance to go on record against the president’s policies, and demonstrated to House Republicans that, no matter how strongly they feel about blocking Obama’s immigration policies, the votes aren’t there in the Senate.
Senior Republicans on Tuesday said they expected McConnell to hold another vote on the House measure, likely as a demonstration of good faith to House Republicans. But after that, the real horse-trading will start.
Homeland Security, which not only guards U.S. borders but plays a key role in national security issues, will run out of funding at the end of the month. DHS was the only element of the federal government not funded for fiscal 2015 by an omnibus spending bill passed when Democrats still controlled the Senate in December.
The thinking then was that when Republicans took control of Congress in January, they’d be able to work out a standalone funding bill to keep DHS up and running while satisfying the opponents of Obama’s immigration policies. The real work on that effort starts now. It will fall to McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to find a way to craft legislation conservative enough to pass the House -- yet still capable of peeling off the handful of Democrats necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster.
If they can get a bill to Obama’s desk with at least nominal bipartisan support, it will make it much more difficult for the president to veto it – and much easier for Republicans to pin the blame for any disruption in DHS funding on the White House.
The alternative scenario, in which a GOP-controlled Congress fails to pass a DHS funding bill is a political loser for the GOP and something its leaders do not want to see play out.
“I don’t think anyone wants to shut down the Department of Homeland Security,” Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
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