How Boehner and the GOP handle the looming DHS shutdown could have major implications for the party.
The House Republican leadership is privately telling rank-and-file lawmakers that they shouldn’t shut down the Department of Homeland Security, but they aren’t telling anyone how they will avoid a lapse in funding at the end of this week.
DHS funding runs out Friday evening, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his GOP colleagues in a closed meeting Wednesday morning that he has not spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in two weeks. And, more importantly, he declined to say whether he supported the Kentucky Republican’s efforts to fund the anti-terrorism agency without provisions that gut President Barack Obama’s unilateral actions to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.
“I’m waiting for the Senate to pass a bill,” Boehner told reporters Wednesday morning. “I don’t know what the Senate is capable of passing. Until I see what they’re going to pass, no decision has been made on the House side.”
Asked if Congress would avoid a shutdown of DHS, Boehner repeated that he’s “waiting for the Senate to act.”
“The House has passed a bill to fund the department, it’s time for the Senate to do their job,” Boehner said.
One big roadblock may be easing in the Senate, where Democrats are now considering accepting McConnell’s offer to hold a vote on a DHS bill without immigration riders. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had initially demanded Tuesday that he first get assurances that the House would take up the bill.
While they aren’t making public their own strategy, key House Republican leadership aides and lawmakers privately said they were heartened by the response Wednesday morning to Boehner’s tone. Conservative Republicans are certainly angry that the Senate is willing to pass a so-called “clean” DHS funding bill, but the mood in the GOP conference wasn’t as negative as many expected. Not one House Republican stood up in the meeting urging the party to shut down the agency. Many took solace in a court ruling that blocked implementation of Obama’s change to the enforcement of immigration laws.
There’s no guarantee Boehner will take up the Senate’s plan if it passes the chamber. Republican aides are also discussing the possibility of a short-term funding bill that could keep the agency open for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. McConnell, meanwhile, is intent on avoiding a shutdown at nearly any cost.
Whatever path Boehner chooses will be heavily scrutinized. This week provides the speaker and his leadership team with their most serious test of this year, one that has major implications for the GOP the leaders’ political future.
Boehner and his top deputies, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, are beginning to figure out how deep their troops want to dig in.
Boehner — who has promised to fight the president “tooth and nail” — will have to gauge whether his conference is ready to follow McConnell and avoid a shutdown. Many of Boehner’s allies are worried about both the political and the policy implications of shutting down DHS, an agency that President George W. Bush created in the wake of 9/11.
McCarthy, who spent the fall promising to avoid precisely these kind of showdowns, is facing one just 50 days into the new Congress. And Scalise’s campaign for whip was predicated on the fact that he could wrangle unruly conservatives — and the majority of House Republicans think it’s high time he start doing so.
The real question for that leadership trio is whether the majority of the 245 Republicans in the House are willing to let DHS funding lapse, or whether the agitation is small enough to allow a clean bill to pass.
Rep. Bill Flores of Texas, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he would not vote for a funding bill without amendments to change immigration policy but neatly laid out what’s at stake.
“There’s a couple of things to think about,” Flores said in an interview Tuesday evening. “No. 1 is, if you had a clean DHS bill, I’m assuming most of the Democrats would vote for it. And on the other hand, one of the things you have to think about is do you vote against homeland security. That’s one of the questions.”