Boehner mum on DHS bill as partial shutdown approaches
Washington — Two days before a partial agency shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly refused Thursday to say if the House will vote on pending Senate legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security without challenging President Barack Obama’s immigration policy.
“When I make a decision I’ll let you know,” Boehner said at a news conference he leavened with humor — puckering his lips at one point as if to send kisses in the direction of a reporter who had posed a question.
The Republican-controlled Senate is on track to pass legislation providing full funding for the Homeland Security agency by the weekend.
Nor would Boehner say if the House would vote on legislation that provides funding for less than the seven months envisioned in the Senate bill. Some Republicans have suggested as much, saying that would give time for a lawsuit challenging Obama’s actions to proceed through the courts.
A federal district judge has blocked Obama’s immigration policies from taking effect, but the administration has appealed the ruling to an appeals court and the president said Wednesday he will pursue the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The White House has declined to say if Obama would sign a short-term measure, and congressional Democratic leaders sidestepped questions on the subject during the day.
There was no shortage of partisan rhetoric as the struggle wore on.
Boehner said that Obama has said he opposes filibusters, but sat “like a bump on a log” while Senate Democrats blocked action on a House-passed bill that provides funds for homeland security and rolls back his immigration orders.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said of Republicans, “Shutting down government is their motive.”
At the crux of the stalemate is a pair of directives Obama issued in 2012 and last year to ease the threat of deportation for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, and the Republicans’ attempt to cut homeland security funding as leverage to roll them back.
Some conservatives have downplayed the implications of a partial shutdown, noting that of the department’s 230,000 employees, some 200,000 would continue to report to work because they are deemed essential, although they would not get paid until the situation is resolved.
Front-line employees at agencies such as Customs and Border Patrol, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration would continue to report to work. Airport security checkpoints would remain staffed, immigration agents would be on the job, air marshals would do their work and Coast Guard patrols would sail on.
Boehner met privately with McConnell on Wednesday afternoon, their first meeting in two weeks, but he gave no indication during the day of how he might resolve what has become a high-stakes leadership test two months into full Republican control of Congress.
Hours after Boehner spoke, the Senate did act, voting 98-2 to advance the Homeland Security funding bill over its first procedural hurdle. Several more votes will be required to bring the bill to final passage, but that outcome in the Senate is assured with lawmakers of both parties ready to put the fight behind them.
The $40 billion legislation would fund the agency through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year. Gone would be the contentious immigration language from the House-passed version that repealed Obama executive actions as far back as 2012 granting work permits and deportation stays to millions of people in the country illegally, including immigrants brought here as kids.
Instead, McConnell envisions a separate vote on a narrower immigration measure to undo just Obama’s most recent immigration directives, from November. The measure would leave in place protections enacted in 2012 for younger immigrants, but even so Democrats are not likely to approve that bill, and it faces a certain Obama veto.
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