Senate Democrats Block Republican Bill to Finance Homeland Security

Jeh Johnson, center, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, visited members of Congress on Tuesday about funding. (PHOTO CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jeh Johnson, center, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, visited members of Congress on Tuesday about funding. (PHOTO CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that would finance the Department of Homeland Security, objecting to a measure that would have gutted President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. The vote set up an urgent confrontation over the department, which will see its funding run out at the end of the month.

The bill, passed by the House recently, would have revoked the president’s action that provides legal protection for as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children. Democrats said that was unacceptable, and Mr. Obama has promised to veto any legislation that reversed his directives on immigration.

The showdown over the $40 billion measure is most likely the first of many, as Democrats turned to procedural moves to stop votes much as Republicans did when they were in the minority. On Tuesday, Republicans blamed Democrats for the vote, which was 51 to 48, to block the bill from coming to the Senate floor.

“If they’re going to dig their heels in and say, ‘We’re going to refuse to fund the Department of Homeland Security,’ I think they’re going to be held accountable for that,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of Republican leadership, warned, “Democracy doesn’t work if you don’t debate.”

But congressional Republicans now find themselves scrambling to fund the agency before it runs out of money on Feb. 27 while also placating their most conservative members, who believe that the president has overstepped his constitutional authority and that the Homeland Security bill is their best leverage to fight back.

“Nobody really has a strategy yet, I’m sorry to say,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He said he had been involved in at least 20 discussions over the last 72 hours about funding the agency. But he added, “We cannot shut down the Department of Homeland Security.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is expected to try to bring the bill back for another vote, complete with amendments that Democrats will oppose. But lawmakers in both parties acknowledge privately that they will have to produce at least a Plan B to ensure the security agency does not run out of money.

Republicans have yet to coalesce around an alternative, but several lawmakers emerged from a closed-door lunch on Tuesday talking about a spending bill that would repeal Mr. Obama’s 2014 executive immigration order, but leave untouched his 2012 order providing legal protections to the undocumented immigrants brought here as children and known as Dreamers. Many Senate Republicans were increasingly opposed to the amendment to roll back the protections for Dreamers, which they thought made them look too harsh.

The plan, proposed by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, had broad support from Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, one of his conference’s most outspoken immigration opponents. Mr. Cruz’s office stressed that the senator’s first preference is simply to pass the House legislation.

“The 2014 order is an extraordinary broad executive order that flies in the face of congressional action,” Ms. Collins said.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Ashley Parker

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