New York Times
By Ashley Parker and Emmarie Heutteman
February 25, 2015
Republicans on Wednesday publicly struggled to resolve tensions within their party as House and Senate leaders searched for a way to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to run out of money on Friday.
The effort to keep the department running has emerged as a proxy fight over President Obama’s immigration policies — as well as the first major test for congressional Republicans over whether they can actually govern, now that they control both chambers.
But it has also become a test of how House and Senate Republicans can reconcile their own considerable differences on major policy fights.
The House speaker, John A. Boehner, told his conference at a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that he and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had not spoken in two weeks, something several lawmakers said they found surprising.
The battle to finance the department — with the Senate calling on the House to act, and the House saying it is still waiting on the Senate — is perilous for the Republican Party.
One day after the Republicans retook the Senate majority, Mr. McConnell said there would be no more government shutdowns, yet he now faces that prospect. And for Mr. Boehner, the funding impasse raises the question of whether he has the political muscle to corral his restive conference — including its most conservative members — into passing a spending measure without a reprisal against his leadership.
On Tuesday, Mr. McConnell offered what he hoped was a way out of the fight — one vote on a bill solely to fund the agency, and another vote on legislation to halt Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, countered by saying that Senate Democrats would not allow a vote on any spending bill until they have a guarantee from Mr. Boehner that his conference also accepts the proposal. And on Wednesday, Mr. Boehner and House Republicans emerged from their private meeting saying they had no plans to act until the Senate actually sent them a bill.
“I don’t know what the Senate’s capable of passing, and until I see what they’re going to pass, no decisions have been made on the House side,” Mr. Boehner said. “The House has done its job to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s overreach on immigration, and we’re waiting for the Senate to do their job.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the majority leader, told his members to keep their schedules “flexible,” and to expect a lot of late nights and early mornings, as well as maybe a weekend session. Another option emerging Wednesday was a short-term funding measure, either for a few months, or for at least a few days until lawmakers figure out a plan forward.
But it remains unclear just how far House Republicans — who are eager to tie any funding bill to legislation to rein in what they say is the president’s executive overreach on immigration — are willing to go in their delicate stance between fighting Mr. Obama’s immigration policies and providing money for a vital security agency.
“There wasn’t really a clear message of where we’re going,” said Representative Raúl Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “I know that most of us over here feel that you have to have the defunding of the president’s actions attached.”
If Mr. Boehner and his leadership team do ultimately try to pass a “clean” funding bill that has no immigration-related amendments, probably with the support of Democratic members, they could face criticism from their more hard-line members, as well as outside conservative groups.
“Our base would be extremely angry,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “So this is very, very delicate territory for our leadership.”
Though discussions are continuing on the Senate side, Democrats seemed increasingly inclined to accept Mr. McConnell’s offer of a vote on a bill to fund the agency, with no immigration provisions attached.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Boehner gave no clear indication of what his conference would be able to pass. “Senate Democrats have stood in the way now for three weeks over a bill that should have been debated and passed,” he said. “So until the Senate does something, we’re in a wait-and-see mode.”
Republicans have long blamed Democrats for the impasse, pointing out that Senate Democrats have four times filibustered an effort to even open debate on a funding bill. But with time ticking down until a partial shutdown, some Republican lawmakers also signaled that it was time to accept a compromise.
“We can’t allow D.H.S. not be funded,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “People think we’re crazy. There’re terrorist attacks all over the world, and we’re talking about closing down Homeland Security. This is like living in the world of the crazy people.”
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