House Passes DHS Funding, Ending Immigration Showdown

House Passes DHS Funding, Ending Immigration Showdown
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In a rare agreement – unusual because it came days before the deadline rather than in the 11th hour – the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year through September.

The measure passed 257-167, with 75 Republicans joining all 182 Democrats in voting yes. A majority of Republicans voted against the measure, but far more than enough joined GOP leadership and Democrats to ensure passage of the bill. The DHS funding bill had already passed the Senate 68-31 last week.

Thus ends a fight, launched in December, that took up weeks of debate in Congress, pitted the two parties and two chambers against each other, caused a swirl of infighting within the Republican majority and ended up failing to achieve the goal of those who set up the showdown.

In December, Congress reached a deal to fully fund the vast majority of the government for the full fiscal year, but to fund the Department of Homeland Security only through Feb. 27. Republicans’ intention was to in effect defund President Obama’s November executive actions on immigration, which called for delaying deportations for possibly millions of undocumented immigrants. Many Republicans believe the president’s immigration order was an overreach of executive power.

The House swiftly took up the issue after the new Congress arrived in Washington, voting in early January on a measure fully funding the Department of Homeland Security but blocking any funds supporting Obama’s actions. The bill completely stalled in the Senate, however, with Democrats repeatedly filibustering Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to debate the measure.

Finally, the Senate reached a breaking point and McConnell offered a deal to separate funding for DHS and the immigration question into different pieces of legislation, thus ending Senate Democrats’ concerns. That measure passed with strong bipartisan support late last week.

Things were more difficult in the House, where more conservative members of the party demanded House Speaker John Boehner hold firm against Obama’s actions, while party pragmatists argued the fight was over. Boehner on Thursday offered a three-week continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown of DHS and try to bring the Senate to conference to hash out differences between the two chambers. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid rejected the idea of conference, insisting that Democrats would support nothing but a “clean” DHS bill without immigration riders.

In a surprise twist Friday, the House voted against Boehner’s three-week fix, with a sizable group of Republicans disappointed with the strategy and no Democrats supporting it. The House later passed a one-week resolution late Friday night to buy time, narrowly avoiding a shutdown of the department but setting up a new deadline seven days later.  

In a Tuesday morning GOP conference meeting, however, Boehner laid out three options for Republicans: a clean DHS bill, another short-term stopgap measure or a department shutdown. It was determined that the clean bill would be brought forth Tuesday afternoon. Boehner, who rarely casts votes, backed the measure as a way to make clear to his conference he wouldn’t ask them to vote for something he himself didn’t support.

Most Republicans, however, remained unhappy with the decision.

A spirited debate took place in the House chamber prior to the vote, with more conservative Republicans blasting the decision to end the fight, some Republicans backing the leadership decision and Democrats cheering the end of the debate.  

“This fight today is not about immigration; this fight today is about the separation of powers,” Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador said on the House floor prior to the vote. “Any person who votes for this deal today is voting to cede some of our power to the executive.”

Many Republicans supporting the deal have pointed to the courts as the proper way to proceed after the president’s immigration actions. A group of more than 20 state attorneys general sued the federal government over the actions, and a federal court last month temporarily halted the implementation of the program. Rep. Tom Cole, a close ally of Boehner’s, said they were “very fortunate” to have the attorneys general on their side.

“Every now and then you need to step back and realize we’re not the only place where these issues get thrashed out and we’re not the only players in this drama,” Cole said.

Some GOP members, however, weren’t convinced that the court case was enough.

Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis said that if the clean DHS bill passed Congress, it would harm the court case. He said that if he were representing the Department of Justice trying to get the federal court’s injunction overturned, “the first sentence in my brief would be that the United States Congress has voted, knowing this program was in existence, to fully fund all operations. Court, you should step out of this dispute, it’s between the political branches, and they have settled it.”

Democrats, who unanimously supported the measure, applauded the decision to fund DHS without immigration riders, but also added the question: Why did it take so long?

“We are very happy that today you saw the process work,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. “It’s unfortunate that the men and women who are in the Department of Homeland Security had to feel like their government did not care about them. Today, we put that to rest. But we also made a statement that we are here to keep America safe. It’s unfortunate that it took us so long to get to this point.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised her members for standing together on the issue. She said it can be difficult to vote against measures that would fund the department, as she and other Democratic leaders convinced their rank-and-file to do last week with Boehner’s proposed three-week solution.

“It’s very hard for a member to vote against a bill that will keep the Homeland Security part of government open, unless you’re seeing a longer view, a more enlightened view, of what can be better in a matter of days,” Pelosi said after the vote. “So the important thing for us was our members had the courage to say, ‘I don’t want government to be shut down, but I’m not falling for this three week plan.’”

Despite filibustering Republican attempts to debate the original House-passed DHS bill and calls to go to conference over the measure, Reid issued a statement following the House vote calling for bipartisanship and a stop to “governing by crisis.”

“As we move forward, I hope we all learn the right lessons from this unnecessary showdown,” Reid said. “Common ground should be something we seek, not run away from – especially when the security of our nation is at stake. If we are going to get anything done, we must not be afraid of working together.

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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