Democrats: Boehner Promised Us a Vote on a Clean DHS Bill Next Week

Deal or no deal, House leadership will be tested next week.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reads a letter she sent to her colleagues in Congress urging support for a DHS stopgap funding bill.
National Journal
Alex Brown
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Alex Brown
Feb. 28, 2015, 8:18 a.m.

House con­ser­vat­ives were told a shut­down-avert­ing vote last night bought them a week re­prieve to strategize a new fight against Pres­id­ent Obama’s im­mig­ra­tion or­ders. Demo­crats be­lieve they’ve been prom­ised a vote on a full-year fund­ing bill by next Fri­day.

A week from now, one of those groups is go­ing to be very dis­ap­poin­ted — and likely ir­ate at the de­cep­tion of its own lead­er­ship.

House Demo­crats voted en masse Fri­day for a one-week con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment, just hours after band­ing to­geth­er to kill a three-week fund­ing meas­ure. Their votes switched at the ur­ging of House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, who told mem­bers they would soon get a vote on the Sen­ate-passed full fund­ing bill.

“Your vote to­night will as­sure that we will vote for full fund­ing next week,” she wrote in a let­ter to col­leagues. Just what is be­hind that as­sur­ance was left un­said, but Demo­crats be­lieve Pelosi ex­trac­ted a prom­ise from House Speak­er John Boehner for a vote on full fund­ing next week.

“I think what changed was there was a com­mit­ment giv­en that if we passed the one-week ex­ten­sion, they would agree next week to bring up the Sen­ate clean fund­ing for DHS, so I be­lieve there was an agree­ment that was made,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. Janice Hahn. “We took [Re­pub­lic­ans] at their word, so I hope it’s true.”

Mul­tiple Demo­crat­ic aides con­firmed lead­er­ship had prom­ised their bosses a vote on the Sen­ate-passed full fund­ing bill next week. Two seni­or Demo­crat­ic staffers ad­ded that they had heard from both caucus lead­er­ship and the White House that Boehner had giv­en them an agree­ment to al­low that vote to take place.

Pelosi’s of­fice would not con­firm or deny a deal with Boehner.

Re­ports of such an agree­ment were vehe­mently denied by the speak­er’s of­fice. “No such deal or prom­ise was made,” said Boehner spokes­man Mi­chael Steel. Of course, con­firm­ing an ar­range­ment to give Demo­crats the clean vote they want would surely draw out­rage from Boehner’s right flank.

Wheth­er one lead­er is ly­ing to their caucus or the two mis­un­der­stood each oth­er, their re­spect­ive caucuses went to vote Fri­day with vastly dif­fer­ent ideas of what the next week would hold.

Even Demo­crats who were tight-lipped about wheth­er Pelosi had told them of a deal said they had read — and be­lieved — re­ports of the ar­range­ment. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Pelosi ally, was among many in the caucus who said the minor­ity lead­er would not have switched course on short-term fund­ing without earn­ing the best deal she could. “This wouldn’t have been ac­cep­ted if that wasn’t go­ing to be the case,” she said.

Still, Pelosi’s strategy was not com­pletely without Demo­crat­ic skep­tics. “She also as­sured Demo­crats who she whipped to vote no this af­ter­noon that, in the event of the fail­ure of the three-week clean [con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion], Mr. Boehner would have ‘no choice’ but to bring up the Sen­ate bill to­night. How’d that work out?” said Rep. Gerry Con­nolly. He called the prom­ised deal “an aw­fully thin reed on which to de­cide to vote for a one-week ex­ten­sion after you whipped Demo­crats to vote against a three-week ex­ten­sion.”

Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­ans, who have surely read those same re­ports, will be closely watch­ing Boehner to see if he in­deed brings a full bill to the floor. They were told the one-week ex­ten­sion would buy them time to force a con­fer­ence with the Sen­ate on the full-year fund­ing bill, which they could then use to push for riders that would un­der­mine Obama’s im­mig­ra­tion or­ders. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has already said his caucus will block any such ef­forts.

If the con­fer­ence is in­deed blocked and the House votes on full fund­ing, it will surely pro­voke out­rage from con­ser­vat­ives who be­lieve Boehner’s plan was to cave all along. Even Fri­day, 55 Re­pub­lic­ans voted against the one-week meas­ure, with many say­ing any “clean” fund­ing that does not fight Obama on im­mig­ra­tion is a con­ces­sion they could not make.

And while the GOP’s dis­trust of its lead­er­ship is well-doc­u­mented, it’s less clear what will hap­pen if next week comes and goes without a vote on full fund­ing. Demo­crats took a tough vote to block a three-week fund­ing bill, only to turn around and ap­prove the short­er plan. Mem­bers be­lieved they were get­ting the vote they wanted in re­turn, and if that doesn’t ma­ter­i­al­ize, they will be look­ing for an­swers. Wheth­er they’ll con­clude Boehner lied to Pelosi — or that Pelosi misled them — is an open ques­tion, and one they’re hop­ing won’t have to be answered.

Daniel NewhauserRachel Roubein contributed to this article.
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