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By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) rejected blame for an impasse in Congress that threatens to cut off funds for the Department of Homeland Security, saying Sunday that it was up to House and Senate leaders to chart a path.

“This was not my plan. This was leadership’s plan,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week, referring to the stalled legislation that would fund the department while attempting to undo President Barack Obama’s recent immigration programs.

In December, “I said this plan doesn’t make sense,” Cruz said. “It gives away all our leverage, and it’s a plan that is designed to fail. So, I would ask leadership, this is their plan they designed. Let’s see what their next step is.”

Cruz’s comments on a pair of Sunday news shows extended a round of Republican finger-pointing over who is responsible for the showdown over the department’s budget and Obama’s immigration policies. Homeland Security funds are set to run out Feb. 28.

The showdown began in November, when conservative lawmakers demanded legislative retaliation for Obama’s executive action deferring deportation for up to 5 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Republican leaders sought unsuccessfully to win support for a plan to fund all government departments through the end of the government’s fiscal year. The two Republican factions agreed on a compromise that provided money for most of the government for the full year, but funded Homeland Security for just three months.

The idea of the compromise was that the GOP would have leverage to fight Obama anew this year. But so far, that plan has not worked.

In January the House passed a bill to fund the department and included amendments that would undo not only the actions Obama announced last fall, but a 2012 initiative that allowed more than half a million young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to temporarily remain in the U.S. Some Republicans in both the House and Senate argued that measure went too far.

Senate Democrats have blocked multiple attempts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to open debate on the proposal, reflecting the limits of the conservative strategy.

Many in Washington call Cruz the instigator of the conservative plan. As Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) urged the Senate to approve the House-passed bill, for example, he took the rare step of singling out Cruz as needing to do more to get the measure approved.

But the Texas senator sought to disavow the plan Sunday. Efforts to label him as the plan’s author were a “talking point for people who want to shift blame,” he said.

On CNN’s State of the Union, Cruz also sought to turn attention to Democrats, saying they were “holding national security hostage for partisan political objectives.”

“I’ve been willing to … take on my own party when my own party is not standing for the principles we’re supposed to stand for. It is time to see some Senate Democrats willing to take on their own president, but right now they’re putting partisan politics ahead of principle and that’s why they’re filibustering the funding for Homeland Security,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, in a separate interview on CNN, said the long-running uncertainty over his department’s budget has limited its ability to fulfill its mission.

If the funding runs out, most border security and transportation security officials would be required to work without pay. The department also would need to furlough 80 percent of the workforce for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Johnson warned.

“This is not a situation to make light of,” he said. “In these challenging times, we need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security right now.”

Democrats have echoed Johnson’s call for a so-called clean funding bill — one that would provide the money without any immigration provisions. Congress is scheduled to be in session for just two weeks before the deadline.

Asked Thursday if he knew what the Senate’s endgame was on the measure, Boehner bluntly replied: “No.”

“Listen, he’s got a tough job,” Boehner said, referring to McConnell. “God bless him and good luck.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.