After Two Month Stand Off, House Passes Clean DHS Funding Bill
As expected, Republicans have caved in the showdown over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
After two months of fighting during which Republicans, led by their most conservative wing yet again, appeared prepared to let the Department of Homeland Security go unfunded due to their dispute with the President over the deportation relief program he announced in November, the House of Representatives has passed a clean funding bill for the department:
WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would fund theDepartment of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year, averting a partial shutdown of the agency after weeks of uncertainty, but inflaming conservative lawmakers.
The legislation passed, 257 to 167, with only 75 Republican votes, and it now heads to President Obama’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.
In the vote on Tuesday — an abrupt reversal of position by House Republicans — what started as an uprising by conservative lawmakers ended largely in a resigned whimper, with Speaker John A. Boehnerpushing through a “clean” spending bill over the objections of his more hard-line members, who had hoped to use the measure to fight what they say are Mr. Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions on immigration.
“How did we end up with kind of a slow demise, even after a very hefty kind of rhetoric?” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Well apparently that’s the way it’s done around here. I don’t agree with it.”
Mr. Boehner’s decision, surprising in its timing, reduced the potential for the political fallout that Republicans would most likely have faced if the department’s operations were halted in a way that harmed public safety.
In a closed meeting of Republicans, Mr. Boehner told members that he was “as outraged and frustrated as you at the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president,” according to one person who was in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Boehner added that he thought the decision was “the right one for this team, and the right one for this country.”
Mr. Boehner’s turnabout came after his leadership team suffered a humiliating setback on Friday, narrowly averting a partial shutdown of the department after his more conservative members revolted against a Republican plan to pass a three-week funding measure.
The House leadership had hoped that the short-term measure would provide it with more time to pressure the Senate to take up a bill that passed the House in January. That measure would have funded the agency but would also have gutted the legal protections that Mr. Obama provided through executive actions to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children.
But the backlash against the near shutdown of the agency was swift, with Republicans shouldering the brunt of the criticism — from Democrats, from the news media and even from many in their own party. The Republican leadership — which had promised to govern effectively, without the threat of government shutdowns, after gaining control of both chambers of Congress in the November elections — had now failed its first major governing test, and it realized it needed to move beyond the current fight.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Boehner presented three possible solutions to his members — a partial shutdown of the agency, another short-term measure that would postpone the fight, or a “clean” funding bill with no immigration provisions. His members quietly accepted a plan for full funding.
No doubt this will not sit will with conservatives and those who have been pushing the leadership in both the House in the Senate to keep up the fight over DHS funding until the Administration relented on the President’s deportation relief program, and indeed there have already been some stirrings online of frustration against John Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership as a result of this latest development. In reality, though, this result was entirely foreseeable and the showdown strategy’s failure mirrors the failure of similar tactics over the past several years. For one thing, the fact that it was only the budget for one department that was being fought over meant that the opponents of the President’s immigration plan had far less leverage than the GOP had back in October 2013 when they followed Ted Cruz’s lead and used the budget of the entire Federal Government to force concessions over the Affordable Care Act. Given the fact that Republicans quite predictably failed in that effort, it should come as no surprise that a similar effort where the only thing at issue was funding for one department similarly failed. Furthermore, the fact the department in question is the one primarily responsible for domestic security made the Republican case even weaker, especially in the wake of the increased attention being paid to ISIS in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and elsewhere in Europe. Additionally, polling was clearly indicating that the American public was opposed to the GOP’s strategy of using DHS funding to force concessions on immigration even as they largely agree with the idea that the President’s decision to achieve immigration reform via executive action was, at best, questionable. If the Department of Homeland Security did shut down, it would be the GOP that would pay the political price. That’s why is was apparent even last week that Republicans were likely to cave, a process that was made complete on Friday when the House passed a one week extension of the funding bill to allow time for today’s bill to pass.
As I noted there is already speculation on the right that allowing this bill to go forward may have endangered John Boehner in his position as Speaker. No doubt, some of the hard right activists on the right will once again be calling for him, Mitch McConnell and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to be removed form office. However, that criticism strikes me as rather ridiculous. Much like he has in the past, Boehner gave the Do Nothing Caucus in the House their red meat and then actually set about to do the only rational thing that could be done, namely get the DHS funding bill that was ultimately going to become law in any case and do so while minimizing the potential political damage to the GOP. The idea that the Republicans could have ever won this shutdown showdown is absurd and I’m not exactly sure what anyone actually expects Boehner, McCarthy, and McConnell to have done differently. On some level though, you almost have feel sorry for the Speaker, he’s spent five years bending over backwards to please people who are dedicated to the principle of the perfect being the enemy of the good and he’s still being threatened with the possibility of losing his position. One would hardly blame him if he just decided to call it day at the end of his current term and head back to Ohio while the Tea Party Caucus is left back in Washington trying to figure out how to do the one thing they have shown no intention of doing, governing.