by Michael Marks, Dallas Morning News
The next move is unclear for House conservatives who Tuesday lost a fight to use Department of Homeland Security funding as leverage on immigration.
The House sent a bill to the president Tuesday afternoon that fully funds DHS for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, after GOP leaders dropped a demand to delete funding related to executive actions issued in November.
“As far as the next legislative action, I don’t know what we can do, what is next,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble.
In November, President Obama issued executive actions that would shield some 5 million people in the country illegally deportation.
On Feb. 16, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville put the actions on hold with a temporary injunction. In Congress, some viewed that as an “escape hatch” – a face saving way for Republicans to back out of the funding fight by leaving the issue to the courts. But House hardliners stuck by demands to defund Obama’s immigration policies, even at the risk of a DHS shutdown when the department’s funding expired last Friday night.
After weeks of political theater, including a week-long funding extension that passed at the buzzer on Friday, the House agreed to a “clean” funding bill already approved by the Senate.
Every Democrat and 75 Republicans voted for the bill, including four Texans: Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, Rep. John Carter of Round Rock, Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, and Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said that “takes one tool out of our toolbox to deal with this.”
But Flores, head of the Republican Study Committee, Congress’ largest conservative caucus, said the fight isn’t over.
“We still have provisions of the Constitution to allow Congress to engage in litigation as well, so I think that’s something we definitely need to pursue,” he said.
He said conservatives will try in the next budget cycle to use Congress’ spending authority to influence the White House, even though it failed this time around.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, called the judge’s ruling critical, but said that “more enduring” protections against the president’s actions are still needed.
Like Flores, he pointed to the appropriations process as a way to “keep the president in check.” But he added, “Nobody knows at this point” exactly how to proceed to block Obama’s actions, other than to hope for the best in court.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who supported using the funding effort to undo Obama’s moves on immigration, said Tuesday the tactic was “doomed to failure” because Senate and House GOP leaders weren’t committed enough to the fight.
“It was abundantly clear to anyone watching that leadership in both houses intended to capitulate in the fight against amnesty,” Cruz said.
A more “serious” approach, he said, would have been to attach a measure nullifying the president’s actions to the funding of an agency like the IRS or the Department of Labor.
“Those are departments which a majority would be prepared to allow funding to temporarily expire in order to use as leverage to stop the president,” Cruz said. “Unfortunately, leadership’s plan was never to win this fight.”
Congress approved funding for the rest of the government months ago.
Poe put the failure of the effort at the feet of Senate Republicans. He said they should have invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to make it possible to pass a bill with just 51 votes, instead of 60.
“The Senate did not prevent this from occurring, which they could have done by changing the rules,” Poe said. “It’s unfortunate the Senate did not do that.”
Poe, a former judge, said he thought the injunction would eventually be made permanent, but “it’s always difficult to predict what any court will do.”
Another former judge, Rep. John Carter — a Round Rock Republican who heads the Appropriations subcommittee that controls DHS funding — agreed. Carter advocated a clean bill in the first place.
“I feel very comfortable that the courts are doing the right thing so far,” Carter said. “But they can always slip and fall.”