By Heidi Przybyla and Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Days before funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting a mixed reaction to his plan to separate agency financing from opposition to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.
Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said McConnell’s decision to separate the two matters is a “good idea.” He spoke Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. Funding for the department is set to lapse Friday.
Still, Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who agrees with Republicans who want to overturn immigration policy, said such a vote must come only after Congress funds the Homeland Security Department.
“I said to my Republican friends, give us a vote on a clean Homeland Security bill,” Manchin said on the Fox and Friends program. Then, he said, “I’ll vote with you, on taking the president’s actions away.”
Republicans have insisted on using the $39.7 billion Homeland Security funding bill to reverse Obama’s decision in November to ease deportation for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
McConnell proposed legislation Monday that separates the two issues after the Senate failed for a fourth time to advance a House-passed bill that linked them.
“I’m ready to try another way,” McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday on the Senate floor. He hasn’t outlined a strategy for funding the agency, though he has said repeatedly that he wouldn’t let the agency’s funding expire.
Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada countered, “The only thing that can pass the Senate is a clean bill” to fund Homeland Security. Democrats “would be happy” to debate immigration after funding is passed, he said.
McConnell’s proposal “doesn’t bring us any closer to actually funding DHS, and Republicans still have no real plan to achieve that goal,” said New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat.
“I appreciate what Mitch McConnell has done,” Carper said. “We’ll have a chance to vote up or down on a clean funding bill.”
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on MSNBC Tuesday that lawmakers should “concentrate on the areas of agreement.”
Regarding McConnell’s action, Johnson said, “I’m still not sure what the result of that’s going to be.”
McConnell’s move distinguishes his leadership style from that of House Speaker John Boehner, who has allowed the demands of Tea Party-aligned lawmakers to bring the government to the brink of a shutdown before reaching a compromise. A 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013 was triggered by a dispute over funding Obamacare.
McConnell and Boehner have been in a tug-of-war over strategy. Two weeks ago, McConnell declared the Homeland Security bill “clearly stuck in the Senate” and said the next step was up to the House. Boehner, though, insisted “the House did its job” and the Senate must make the next move.
Both leaders know that, even if they’d succeeded in persuading Senate Democrats to support the House bill, Obama would have vetoed it.
Boehner, asked in a Fox News Sunday interview aired Feb. 15 whether he was prepared to let the department’s funding lapse, said, “Certainly. The House has acted.”
Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said Monday that a separate vote on the November immigration orders “will highlight the irresponsible hypocrisy of any Senate Democrat who claims to oppose President Obama’s executive overreach on immigration, but refuses to vote to stop it.”
The new legislation will put pressure on Senate Democrats including Manchin and Claire McCaskill of Missouri who have been critical of Obama’s immigration orders.
Obama told the nation’s governors that a shutdown of the agency will affect the economy and the nation’s security.
“These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states,” Obama told members of the National Governors Association at the White House on Monday. “It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security, because their hard work helps to keep us safe.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said a shutdown would require 75 percent to 80 percent of his employees, including border patrol agents and members of the Coast Guard, to work without pay. The department would have to furlough 30,000 employees, including much of the headquarters staff.
“Every day I press the staff at my headquarters to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIL and threats to our aviation security,” Johnson said in a news conference Monday, referring to the terror group Islamic State. “If we shut down, that staff is cut back to a skeleton.”
While Republican leaders were trying to pin the blame on Democrats, some Republicans warned that their party would shoulder the responsibility for any disruptions.
“For God’s sakes, don’t shut down the premier homeland security defense line called the Department of Homeland Security,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Monday on the Fox & Friends program. “If we do, as Republicans, we’ll get blamed.”
A new CNN/ORC poll showed that 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress for a shutdown, while 30 percent would blame Obama. A majority said a shutdown, even for only a few days, would be a crisis or a major problem.
The Senate vote Monday that failed to advance the House bill was 47-46 with 60 required.
Congress has funded the rest of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. The House bill would fund the Homeland Security agency through the same period.
Separately, the Obama administration Monday asked a Texas judge to suspend an order that forced the White House to delay carrying out its immigration plans during a court challenge by Texas and 25 other states.
The administration gave U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, until the close of business Wednesday to act on his own before it goes directly to an appeals court in a bid to temporarily set aside his order.
(With assistance from Kathleen Hunter in Washington.)
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr