New York Times
By Jeremy Peters
February 5, 2015
You could see the mischievous delight in John A. Boehner’s face as soon as he heard the question Thursday.
Did he, the speaker of the House, have any idea how his Republican counterpart in the Senate was going to corral enough Republicans to support a plan that keeps the Department of Homeland Security funded?
“No,” Mr. Boehner said, shrugging his shoulders. Then, he grinned as he contemplated the task that faced Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. “He’s got a tough job over there. I’ve got a tough job over here. God bless him and good luck.”
Now that they control both houses of Congress, Republicans are beginning to learn the limits of their newfound power. For the third day in a row, Senate Republicans called a vote on a bill to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded. And for the third time, it failed to clear a Democratic filibuster.
The problems were old and new: political divisions within the party, difficulties over managing the expectations of conservative lawmakers, and the simple arithmetic of getting to the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes when there are only 54 Republican senators. The tactics that had served them well when they were in the minority were now being effectively exploited against them.
Democrats were gleeful as, one by one, they flashed thumbs down to the Senate clerks and recorded their no votes.
“The Republicans are like Fido when he finally catches the car,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “Now they don’t have any clue about what to do. They are realizing that being in the majority is both less fun and more difficult than they thought.”
Republicans were certainly exasperated — though not to the point of wishing they were still in the minority.
But they were discovering that many of the perks of privilege they now enjoy — control of the Senate floor, chairmanships on the standing committees, more spacious quarters for their caucus meetings — are empty unless they can agree among themselves on how to move their agenda forward. They promised voters positive movement when they crushed Democrats in the midterm elections. So far, inertia has prevailed.
They were also coming to another realization about the pitfalls of their power, and it was the same reckoning that Democrats had when they decided to block the Homeland Security bill: Republicans, as the party that controls Congress, would be blamed as the department closed in on the Feb. 27 deadline when it will run out of money.
“I’m hoping public opinion starts to recognize that it’s not Republicans who are objecting or obstructing,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“Time out,” Mr. Johnson added. “We wouldn’t even be discussing this if President Obama hadn’t done what he did.”
What the president did — declaring through his powers as the chief executive to make up to five million undocumented immigrants eligible for new legal protections and rights, including work permits — has left Republicans divided over how to fight back.
The party has struggled to come up with an alternative to the current Homeland Security bill, which includes provisions approved by the House that would rescind those new legal protections and subject many people here illegally, including children, to deportation.
Even some Republicans have acknowledged that this legislation will never pass the Senate because members in both parties believe it is too harsh. Some, like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, have tried to come up with a more palatable alternative; so far, Ms. Collins has yet to see a vote on her approach.
But conservative lawmakers and the powerful class of right-leaning news media commentators that can heavily influence public opinion expect Republicans to push Mr. Obama harder — even if he is certain to veto legislation that tries to undermine his immigration policies.
Some Republicans acknowledge that the immigration aspects of the Homeland Security bill will have to be stripped out. The question they cannot resolve is how to get conservative lawmakers to realize that. Some have suggested that the repeated Senate votes that all end the same way, in defeat, will help drive that point home.
Part of the problem that some Senate Republicans find so frustrating is that their colleagues in the House do not always seem to appreciate that a majority in the Senate does not mean that the party controls every outcome.
In fact, many Senate Republicans are learning that lesson.
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