Senate Republican leaders are plotting a new strategy that they hope will allow them to prevent a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) next week.
They are considering a plan in which they would split off legislation attacking President Obama’s executive action on immigration from funding for DHS, according to a Senate GOP aide familiar with the discussions.
Senate GOP leaders are also looking at dropping any effort to overturn Obama’s 2012 executive action, which set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Polls suggest this program is more popular because it helps illegal immigrants who came to the country as children.
Republicans think they can win over Democratic votes if they seek to overturn only Obama’s 2014 executive action, which even some centrist Democrats have criticized.
Still, it remains unclear whether conservative Republicans would go along with splitting the immigration issue from homeland security funding.
“There’s another angle we’re going to try to approach on it,” said a Senate Republican aide. “The goal is to bring up the issue of executive amnesty and have a determination of just that issue.
“We would try to have a vote on just that issue,” the aide added. “Does it have to be addressed as part of DHS, or can it be addressed separately? If we can get to that issue and have a vote on that issue, then you come back to DHS appropriations.
“That’s the issue some of the Democrats have a problem with the administration as well as the Republicans. But when you throw in all the other issues, Dreamers and all the other things that came over from the House, you don’t have as much Democratic support,” the source said.
House Republicans will not have a chance to react to the plan until they return to town from a weeklong recess.
In the meantime, the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday for a fourth time on a House-passed homeland security funding bill that would reverse Obama’s 2014 and 2012 executive orders.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the bill could be amended if Democrats allow it to reach the floor for debate.
“Any changes to the House bill require that we get on it. You can’t amend the bill unless you get on it,” he said.
But Democrats have shown no such intention. They have blocked the bill three times without suffering a single defection, and are unified in demanding a “clean” homeland security funding bill without controversial policy riders.
Some Senate Republicans think they would have a better chance of getting the 60 votes they need by focusing narrowly on the executive action from November.
In recent months, six Senate Democrats questioned the wisdom of Obama taking unilateral action to protect the relatives of citizens and permanent residents from deportation.
The Democrats skeptical of the move were Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Al Franken (Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in November he had “constitutional concerns about where prosecutorial discretion ends and unconstitutional executive authority begins.”
One Senate Republican aide said the decision by House leaders to include repeal of DACA in the funding bill made it easy for Democrats to block it from coming up for debate.
“Shutdowns are the Republican Party’s kryptonite. How do we win that? There’s no way we win that argument, ever,” said the aide. “The big strategic blunder was the House putting DACA in there.”
Some centrist Republicans in the House balked at the provision repealing DACA, as 26 of them voted against it.
Another Senate Republican aide said McConnell would not need a bill that originates in the House — as spending bills must — to repeal Obama’s executive action protecting as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.
But it could take him more than a week to get the bill up for a vote on the Senate floor, forcing both chambers to pass a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a DHS shutdown.
“If the bill’s not on the calendar, they would have to write it and introduce it, then they have to go through the Rule 14 process and take three days to get bill onto the calendar. Then once on the calendar, they would move to proceed and file cloture,” said the aide. “It will push you into next week if it’s not already on the calendar.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this month appeared to dismiss the prospect of a stopgap funding measure for DHS, telling reporters, “I’m gonna start laughing,” when asked about the prospect of one.
A stopgap looks increasingly likely, as Democrats are sure to filibuster the House bill once again, and time is fast running out. Without congressional action, homeland security funding will lapse on Feb. 27, creating a partial shutdown where thousands of employees are forced to work without pay.
Senate leaders have vowed they will not allow a shutdown.
“We’re not going to shut down,” Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said before Congress left for the Presidents’ Day recess. “You can take my word for it.”
Republican and Democratic strategists say the GOP would bear the brunt of the blame if homeland security funding expired because of a fight over immigration.
“History says that Republicans get the blame for any government shutdown whether for the Department of Homeland Security or the entire government,” said Patrick Davis, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee official.
“It could have an impact going into the next election,” he added.
Senate GOP should get to the place where they pass the bill by 51 votes.