Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday revealed his Plan B for breaking the stalemate with President Obama over funding the Department of Homeland Security.
Unable to get the 60 votes needed to approve a House-passed version that would block the president’s executive order saving nearly five million illegal immigrants from deportation, McConnell said he was sending the bill back to the House for a major overhaul. The overhaul would presumably strip the measure clean of any controversial immigration policy language.
After more than a week of debate and three failed votes to try to break a Democratic filibuster, the GOP leader said, “It’s safe to say we’re stuck.”
“It’s clear we can’t go forward in the Senate unless you’ve heard something I haven’t,” McConnell said. “So the next step is in the House.”
For McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), trying to pass permanent Homeland Security spending legislation while placating conservatives who want to block Obama’s immigration policies has gone from a thorny legislative challenge to a flat-out political nightmare.
Late last year, Congress passed spending bills for most of the government through the rest of the fiscal year, but granted the Department of Homeland Security only short-term spending authority, through Feb. 27. DHS is responsible for implementing executive orders on immigration, and the new GOP leadership wanted time to craft a strategy for blocking the executive orders.
Republicans feared a P.R. fiasco shortly after they took control of Congress if an impasse over the executive order forced even a partial shutdown of the department responsible for protecting Americans against terror attacks.
Last month, the House passed a $40 billion spending bill with language barring implementation of several executive actions that protected millions of illegal immigrants and their children from the threat of deportation.
Boehner said last week that the House had kept its end of the bargain. He said now it was time for Senate firebrands like Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, as well as Democrats, to face their obligation to avert a shutdown of DHS.
But in TV appearances over the weekend, Cruz essentially disowned the strategy he once encouraged and blamed House and Senate GOP leaders for leading Republicans into a political boxed canyon.
Today, with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Senate Democrats berating Republicans for risking national security by playing politics, McConnell and the GOP Senate leadership threw in the towel and said they were sending the matter back to the House. With only a 54-vote majority, the Republicans were well shy of the 60-vote super majority needed to pass the legislation.
Asked whether Senate leaders were punting the controversy back to the House, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the number two Republican in the Senate, replied, “Unless you can find me six votes, that’s it. We’ve done the best we can. At some time, the arithmetic is the reality.”
“I think to cut their losses, they ought to give us a clean appropriations bill,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Democratic whip.
But House Republicans won’t take back the DHS bill at this time. They say their chamber has done its job and that it’s up to senators to find the necessary Democratic votes to approve the funding bill.
The pressure is on the Senate Democrats, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, indicated to Politico. “Until there is some signal from those Senate Democrats what would break their filibuster, there’s little point in additional House action,” he said.
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