For each side in the debate over funding the Department of Homeland Security, the answer is simple—at least in their own minds.
“I think the bill we passed is the right position, plain and simple,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, who won’t support anything other than House-passed legislation that funds Homeland Security only if Congress revokes President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
“Our bill is the right bill,” Jordan said. “There is one bill that makes sense. It really is that basic.”
But in Congress, simple can often be complex, so naturally, as the Friday deadline to fund Homeland Security nears, lawmakers, dug into their preferred answers, are no closer to a solution.
And Republicans don’t even have consensus in their own party.
In separate interviews with The Daily Signal, Jordan, a conservative from Ohio, and Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate from Pennsylvania, exposed competing priorities for newly empowered Republicans, who want to take a stand against Obama’s solo actions on immigration, and, at the same time, show they can govern effectively.
Being ‘Realistic’ vs. Blocking the ‘Unconstitutional’
For Dent, legislating appropriately means being “realistic.”
“If we can’t send a bill to the president, then the Republican Congress failed because we didn’t pass a bill,” Dent said. “We have to be realistic in our expectations. I don’t see any other option at this point.”
For the fourth time Monday, Senate Democrats blocked a vote on a House-passed bill that funds Homeland Security while undoing major portions of Obama’s immigration policy, including his recent executive actions and an earlier program that allowed immigrants who entered the country illegally as children to stay.
Republicans have been able to muster at most 53 votes in the Senate, meaning they need at least seven Democrats to side with them in order to get 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has voted with Democrats on all four occasions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., trying to get his chamber “unstuck” from the Democratic filibuster, proposed new legislation late Monday—separate from the funding bill—blocking Obama’s executive actions. By untying the legislation from the Homeland Security funding bill, McConnell hopes to make it harder for Democrats to oppose.
McConnell’s new proposal would focus only on Obama’s recent executive actions, and not the president’s 2012 program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the initiative known as DACA that benefits young immigrants.
Meanwhile, in a press conference today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson continued to make the case that his agency, which protects the nation from terrorists, illegal border crossers and natural disasters, needs a full-year of funding to do its job.
Though most Homeland Security employees—those deemed essential—would continue working under a shutdown, Johnson says 15 percent of his employees would be furloughed.
Those who do work, including Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration officers at airports, and members of the Coast Guard, would not be paid during the shutdown.
The White House will only sign off on a “clean” funding bill that does not touch Obama’s immigration actions.
Even if no end game seems near, Jordan says he and other conservatives are willing to risk the shutdown of Homeland Security if it means “we do the constitutionally right thing.”
Jordan argues a federal court ruling last week that—at least temporarily halts Obama’s executive actions—bolsters Republicans’ case to use the Homeland Security funding bill as leverage to gut the immigration moves.
“I am willing to make sure we do the constitutionally right thing,” Jordan told The Daily Signal. “We have a federal judge who said this is unconstitutional. Why in the world should we fund it? And frankly, how can a member of Congress in good conscious fund it?”
“I am willing to make sure we do the constitutionally right thing,” says @Jim_Jordan.
On Monday, the Obama administration formally filed to “stay,” or suspend, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s preliminary injunction. If Hanen lifts his prior order, then Obama’s immigration actions would be allowed to go forward while the lawsuit proceeds through the courts.
Last November, Obama announced executive actions that shield millions of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation and grants them work permits.
Jordan insists there are “a lot of members of Congress” who feel the same way as he does.
“We all know what the president did was wrong,” Jordan said. “The American people said it’s wrong. Now a federal judge said it’s wrong. You have unconstitutional reasons, as validated by a federal judge, you have the unfairness reasons, and yet somehow, people want to say, ‘Republicans you need to do something different.’ I just fail to see it.”
Who Should be the Ruler?
Dent would consider other methods to end the funding impasse.
“Clearly the only way this is going to end is with either a clean Homeland Security appropriations bill or a [a short-term] continuing resolution,” said Dent, who prefers the “clean” bill to the continuing resolution.
”That will be the final outcome here. The question is, Will we come to that realization before or after February 27? Even if the court provided a favorable ruling, the Senate is not taking it up. I very much dislike Senate Democrats’ obstructing any consideration on the House-passed bill, but that’s where we are.”
Jordan and Dent agree that a short-term funding measure, which would fund the department at the level of the previous year, is insufficient.
“With a CR, depending on how long you do it, we are just setting ourselves up for another artificial cliff,” Dent told The Daily Signal. “Then, we will be back in this situation again in fairly short order. So I think we might as well let the courts deal with it.”
Indeed, Dent believes a ruling from the judicial branch should be enough to determine the legitimacy of Obama’s immigration actions, especially when there appears to be no legislative solution.
“It’s obvious to me the courts are dealing with the president’s executive actions and I oppose those executive actions,” Dent said. “But it’s time we do our jobs and legislate. The courts will ultimately make a decision one way or another on the president’s executive action. The Homeland Security appropriations bill was never the right place to fight that battle. We knew that going into the fight and we know that even more so today.”
Dent, like many Republicans, is also cognizant of the blame game.
“It would be terrible for the Republican party to have any type of a partial DHS shutdown, particularly at a time of increased terrorist activity in Europe and the Middle East,” says @DentforCongress.
“Of course we’re going to get blamed because we control the House and the Senate,” Dent said of Republicans. “It would be terrible for the Republican Party to have any type of a partial [Homeland Security] shutdown, particularly at a time of increased terrorist activity in Europe and the Middle East. ISIS is on the march. And we can’t be cavalier about funding the Department of Homeland Security at a moment like this.”
Jordan views the issue more simply.
“It’s real simple Mr. [Jeh] Johnson,” Jordan said. “Tell your boss—the president—that he should behave in a way that’s consistent with the courts, and not insist upon having money in the bill to fund something that the court has said is unconstitutional. It’s so simple. We make this way more complicated than it is.”