GOP Pushes DHS/Immigration Linkage Despite Judge's Ruling

GOP Pushes DHS/Immigration Linkage Despite Judge's Ruling
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Congressional Republicans say they still plan to use Department of Homeland Security funding as a way to stop President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, despite a federal judge’s ruling Monday to temporarily block the presidential order.

Efforts to undo Obama’s executive actions delaying deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants have stalled on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, with Republicans dead set on using the pending DHS appropriations bill to cut off all funding for what they see as Obama’s unconstitutional overreach. Democrats have held firm in their stance that the DHS funding bill should be a “clean” one that lacks immigration amendments. The court ruling  in Texas seems unlikely to sway either party to change its position.

"Today's ruling reinforces what I and many others have been saying for a long time: that President Obama acted outside the law when he went around Congress to unilaterally change our nation's immigration laws,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the majority whip, said in a statement. “Today's victory is an important one, but the fight to reverse the President's unconstitutional overreach is not over. The President must respect the rule of law and fully obey the court’s ruling.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the court decision “a major victory for the rule of law.”

"The Senate Democrats who are filibustering Department of Homeland Security funding should look hard at this ruling,” he said in a statement. “At a time when we face grave national security threats, at home and abroad, it is the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to block this funding in an extreme attempt to save Obama's amnesty, which a federal judge has just declared illegal."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said late Monday night that the court ruling wrongly prevented the policies from taking effect and that Department of Justice will appeal the decision. The immigration executive actions were set to begin on Wednesday.

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released similar statements after the ruling, each noting that Obama had previously said “22 times” that he did not have the legal authority to do what his executive actions ultimately did. Both GOP leaders called on Senate Democrats to end their filibuster of the House-passed DHS funding bill.  

“Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department,” Boehner said.

Yet Democrats appear to be similarly unswayed by the judge’s decision. Sens. Joe Manchin and Sen. Claire McCaskill, who were critical of the executive action when it was announced, nonetheless say that the DHS funding bill should move forward without immigration amendments, spokespeople for both lawmakers told RCP.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, echoed that sentiment: “This procedural ruling, in our opinion, is very unlikely to be upheld, but regardless of the outcome Democrats remain united in our belief that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period.” 

The fight over DHS funding has been a messy one on Capitol Hill, with not just partisan bickering but Senate and House Republicans having trouble getting on the same page. Boehner has insisted again and again in recent weeks that the House has done its job in passing a bill funding DHS and halting Obama’s immigration policies.

McConnell brought that House bill up three times in the Senate, and each time Democrats prevented debate on it. It’s expected to be brought up again next week when Congress returns from this week’s recess, but the result will likely be the same.

Despite GOP leaders attempting to lay responsibility for a potential DHS shutdown on the Democratic minority, Republicans may take the lion’s share of the blame if the department isn’t funded by the deadline next Friday, just 10 days from now.

A poll released Tuesday by CNN shows that a majority of Americans, 53 percent, think Republicans in Congress would be at fault if Homeland Security shuts down without a new spending bill. Three in 10 said Obama would be to blame, while just 13 percent said both the president and congressional Republicans would be responsible.

If the funding bill doesn’t pass before the deadline, essential personnel, such as TSA agents and border security agents, would remain on the job but would not receive paychecks. Even if DHS shuts down for just a few days, 82 percent of Americans would see it as a problem,  with 55 percent viewing it as a crisis or major problem.

If the shutdown continued for several weeks, 87 percent of respondents would see it as an issue, with 67 percent viewing it as a crisis or major problem, according to the poll. (The survey of 1,027 Americans, conducted Feb. 12-15, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.) 

Despite the potential for Republicans, who now control both chambers of Congress, to be blamed if DHS isn’t funded by next week, Boehner has stuck to his oft-repeated line that the House has done its part.

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked the speaker in an interview that aired Sunday whether he could promise the American people that he wouldn’t allow funding to run out.

“The House has acted. We’ve done our job,” Boehner responded. “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. And it’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”

If DHS does run out of funding, “Senate Democrats should be to blame, very simply,” Boehner said, adding that he was “certainly” prepared to let that happen.  

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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