If there was any lingering doubt about whether the Republicans need a “Plan B” to extricate themselves from a messy stalemate with the Obama administration over funding the Department of Homeland Security, it was dispelled on Sunday.
That’s when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared that GOP leaders were playing a losing hand.
Cruz, the Tea Party champion and presidential aspirant, has been a principal advocate of holding DHS funding hostage as a strategy for blocking implementation of President Obama’s executive order exempting nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Cruz and other conservatives have strongly favored attaching a rider to a spending measure to block implementation of the executive order.
But in appearances today on CNN and ABC News talk shows, the combative Cruz essentially disowned the strategy and blamed House and Senate GOP leaders for leading the Republicans into a political boxed canyon.
Cruz also berated what he described as the "stunning irresponsibility" of Senate Democrats who on three occasions have blocked action on a House-passed Homeland Security funding bill that includes language preventing the agenda from carrying out Obama’s controversial executive order.
"It's now up to leadership to lay out their strategy," Cruz said of Republicans during his appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. "I told them this was not a winning strategy and they went down this road anyway."
Related: House GOP Ready to Play Chicken with Obama over DHS Funding
As for the Democrats who are standing by the president’s executive order despite the possibility of an impasse that could lead to a partial shutdown of DHS at a time of mounting international terrorists’ threats, Cruz said, "The Democrats need to stop holding national security hostage for partisan political objectives. What they're doing is wrong and irresponsible."
Cruz has shown a penchant for rallying conservatives in both the House and Senate to block passage of government spending bills to try to force the administration’s hand on key policy issues – only to disavow responsibility if the strategy backfires. This was certainly the case in late 2013 when he helped precipitate a 16-day partial government shutdown in a failed effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Last week, a frustrated House Speaker John Boehner called out Cruz and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at a news conference, saying that it was the Republican-controlled Senate’s turn to take up the fight against Obama’s immigration executive overreach after the House had done its part in January.
"We won this fight in the House, now the fight must be won in the United States Senate," Boehner said. He added, “It's time for Senator Cruz and Senator Sessions and Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats to stand with the American people and to block the President's actions."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has three times in the past week or so to pass a DHS funding bill with restraints on the president’s executive orders, but each time failed to muster the 60-vote super majority needed for passage.
A number of senior Senate Republicans, including Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee have indicated the GOP may have to throw in the towel and pass a “clean” spending bill before a Feb. 27 deadline.
Republicans feared a public relations fiasco shortly after they took control of Congress if a stalemate over the executive order forces even a partial shutdown of the premier department responsible for protecting Americans against future terrorist attacks like the ones in France, Australia and Canada.
During an appearance today on CNN, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson repeatedly urged Congress to pass legislation to fully fund his department without blocking Obama’s immigration executive order.
Johnson said that if funding runs out in late February, it would result in furloughs for many employees including those at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Johnson said a smoothly functioning department is particularly important in light of the fight against ISIS and other terrorists around the world.
“If people in Congress want to have that debate about immigration reform, let’s have that debate,” Johnson said. “But don’t tie that to funding of public safety and homeland security for the American people.”
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