Republicans weigh how far to push Obama on DHS funding

The Washington Examiner — For weeks, House and Senate Republicans have rallied behind a Homeland Security spending bill that defunds President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

But Senate Democrats blocked the measure on Tuesday, triggering what will likely be a tough debate within the Republican conferences about how far to challenge the president using the congressional power of the purse.

“I’d like to go toe-to-toe with Obama,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. “It’s a worthwhile fight, because what the president has done is blatantly unconstitutional.”

For Boozman and other conservatives in Congress, defunding Obama’s executive actions on immigration is a “must have” in any new legislation to fund DHS.

The debate over what to do next threatens to fracture the newly-minted GOP majority in Congress.

In December, GOP leaders promised their conservative wing that they would withhold funding for Obama’s executive actions in the DHS bill, and those conservative members are expecting to the leadership to uphold their pledge.

The current bill defunds Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive action that allows people who arrived in the United States illegally as children to obtain work permits and avoid deportation. It would also curb a November directive allowing more than 5 million more illegal immigrants to obtain work permits and become eligible for some federal benefits.

Conservatives want the GOP leadership to send the defeated legislation back to the Senate floor for a vote in an effort to increase pressure on Democrats.

“This is day one,” Sen Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., one of the staunchest opponents to Obama’s executive actions, said after the defeat of the DHS legislation. “What is needed now is a sustained, organized, unified Republican effort to rally the nation against an imperial edict erasing our immigration laws. Such an effort would ultimately succeed. The position of the Democrat Caucus is untenable, insupportable and unsustainable.”

While Republican leaders may be willing to try again with the bill, they are planning on ultimately drafting something more palatable to the Democrats, who voted in unison Tuesday to defeat the current version.

A temporary spending bill keeping DHS operating will expire on Feb. 27, and the GOP leadership wants to steer clear of a politically dangerous funding showdown with Democrats over the agency, which operates airport screening and border enforcement, among other critical national security programs.

“There are constant discussions on what the strategy is,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday. “But, we can’t shut down the DHS. Not with the threats the homeland is subjected to as a result of the rise of ISIS.”

Senate GOP leaders declined to reveal their strategy on Tuesday, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left open the option of bringing the legislation back to the floor a second time.

“We’re fighting for Plan A,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Tuesday prior to the vote.

House GOP leaders, who have spent years refereeing divisions within their own conference on immigration and spending issues, appeared happy to leave the infighting up to their counterparts in the Senate.

“The bill is there right now,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise told the Washington Examiner as he sprinted out a Capitol exit. “They can take it up today, tomorrow …”

For now, the two parties are engaged in a public relations war, with each side accusing the other of holding up the essential DHS funding bill.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid predicted Republicans would eventually put forward a DHS bill with no strings attached.

“So why do we wait, why do we agonize?” the Nevada Democrat said.