House fails to pass funding bill for homeland security

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders failed to muster the votes to pass a stopgap measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks, leaving the agency in jeopardy of a partial shutdown Friday night.

The failure left Congress with few options to avoid a partial shutdown. House Republicans could attempt to pass another stopgap funding bill late Friday, or relent and allow a vote on a competing Senate-passed bill that would fund DHS through Sept. 30.

House Republicans oppose the Senate bill because it does not include provisions aimed at gutting President Obama’s executive order delaying deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, under pressure for conservatives, attempted to advance the short-term measure to buy more time to fight over the immigration policies. But 52 Republicans voted against his plan, and the bill was rejected 203-224. A dozen Democrats voted for Boehner’s bill, but the rest opposed it.

House Democrats instead say the chamber should instead support the Senate-passed bill, which was approved earlier Friday in a bipartisan 68-31 vote. The $40 Senate bill keeps DHS fully funded through the end of the fiscal year. But a block of conservative Republicans want the House to hold firm and continue to demand that the Senate pass legislation the House has already passed including the immigration provisions.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Congress’ struggle to find a final resolution to the funding fight « exposes the danger of playing politics with our homeland security. »

A shutdown would result in the furlough of more than 30,000 of the agency’s 240,000 employees. Most employees are considered too essential to the nation’s security to be furloughed, so they would have to work without pay.

The department includes Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

At the heart of the funding fight was a battle over immigration.

House Republicans wanted to use the DHS funding bill as leverage to derail Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Obama issued those orders in November to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the USA.

The House passed a funding bill in January that included amendments to bar any of the money from being used to carry out the president’s immigration orders.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to push that bill through the Senate four times, but Democrats blocked it. This week, McConnell changed strategy and allowed senators to vote on a « clean » funding bill free of the immigration riders.

The competing strategies in the House and Senate put on stark display the tactical divisions and competing political pressures for McConnell and Boehner.

Boehner is under pressure from conservatives and the party base to lead the fight against the administration, while McConnell has sought to position the new GOP-controlled Congress as a responsible governing party to build the GOP’s case for winning the White House in 2016.

Contributing: Gregory Korte and Associated Press

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