Mitch McConnell Announces a Vote on Clean DHS Funding Is Coming

The Senate majority leader is making his move to try and prevent a shutdown.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks while flanked by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (L) on January 29, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. The US Senate is holding a cloture vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline. 
National Journal
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Sarah Mimms and Lauren Fox
Feb. 24, 2015, 9:32 a.m.

With the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment set to shut down on Sat­urday, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell on Tues­day offered Sen­ate Demo­crats everything they wanted. And then, as with mice and cook­ies, they asked for some more.


Mc­Con­nell told re­port­ers Tues­day that after two months of beg­ging, he would fi­nally agree to give Demo­crats a clean vote to fund DHS through the end of the fisc­al year. The fund­ing, based on an agree­ment between Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­ors last year, would come with no strings at­tached.

“I’ve in­dic­ated to the Demo­crat­ic lead­er that I’d be happy to have his co­oper­a­tion to ad­vance the con­sid­er­a­tion of a clean DHS bill which would carry us through till Septem­ber 30th,” Mc­Con­nell said to press Tues­day.

Then, he would hold a vote Fri­day to de­fund Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion on im­mig­ra­tion, as a con­sol­a­tion prize for con­ser­vat­ives in the House and Sen­ate who have pushed to tie the two is­sues to­geth­er. That se­quence would keep DHS open and could earn enough Demo­crat­ic votes to pass the sep­ar­ate meas­ure de­fund­ing the pres­id­ent’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion. Already Sens. Claire Mc­Caskill and Joe Manchin have said they will vote to move for­ward the im­mig­ra­tion bill; al­though Mc­Caskill said that the DHS fund­ing must come first and hasn’t made a de­cision on wheth­er she’ll vote for the un­der­ly­ing im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure.

But when Demo­crats heard the news, they were not im­pressed. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said that he had a pos­it­ive meet­ing with Mc­Con­nell on Tues­day, but then asked for more: House Speak­er John Boehner’s guar­an­tee that the clean DHS fund­ing bill could pass the House.

That’s a tall or­der for Boehner, who will meet with his con­fer­ence to dis­cuss their op­tions on Wed­nes­day. It’s likely that a clean DHS fund­ing bill will earn the vast ma­jor­ity of Demo­crat­ic votes in the House, but with con­ser­vat­ives riled up about the im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure, it will be a much harder sell in Boehner’s own con­fer­ence.

Mc­Con­nell told re­port­ers Tues­day, “I do not know what the House will do.”

Mc­Con­nell spokes­man Don Stew­art would not say wheth­er Mc­Con­nell had told Boehner about his new strategy be­fore mak­ing the an­nounce­ment Monday night, al­though he ac­know­ledged that the two lead­ers speak of­ten.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ar­iz., said Mc­Con­nell an­nounced the de­cision at a con­fer­ence lunch­eon Tues­day, but that the an­nounce­ment had drawn ire from more-con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers who be­lieve Mc­Con­nell was giv­ing in to Demo­crat­ic de­mands without hold­ing the pres­id­ent ac­count­able. Mul­tiple Re­pub­lic­ans in the meet­ing said there was still broad dis­agree­ment as to wheth­er a cav­ing to Demo­crats de­mands for a clean fund­ing bill was the best course for­ward.

“Most of us feel like the courts gave us a ma­jor vic­tory,” Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., said out­lining the ra­tionale for Mc­Con­nell to of­fer a clean DHS bill now after weeks of not back­ing down. “Some­times it makes a lot of sense to bank vic­tor­ies and move ahead.”

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., who has been a ma­jor ad­voc­ate of ty­ing DHS fund­ing to block­ing Obama’s ac­tions, says he thinks lead­er­ship should stick with the ori­gin­al plan.

“I think it is a big deal of huge, his­tor­ic im­port­ance,” Ses­sions says.” I will be glad to con­sider what our lead­ers have talked about, but I re­main firmly con­vinced that at this point Con­gress should put the heat where it be­longs, and that is on the pres­id­ent.”

Out­side con­ser­vat­ives, who have been known to in­flu­ence Boehner’s abil­ity to get his con­fer­ence to “yes” have already said they are op­posed to stand alone DHS fund­ing bill. Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund tweeted Tues­day, “Sen­ate GOP lead­ers sur­render again “¦ plan to fund Obama’s am­nesty for the rest of the fisc­al year.”

The in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially of a group such as Her­it­age Ac­tion for Amer­ica, which an­nounced it will key vote a “no” on a clean DHS fund­ing vote, could still de­rail any DHS deal. “As the ma­jor­ity lead­er said last year, the power of the purse is the ‘only tool’ Con­gress has to rein in ex­ec­ut­ive over­reach,” Her­it­age Ac­tion CEO Mi­chael Need­ham said in a state­ment.

“I think it is clear that the House has not agreed on a strategy yet,” Flake told re­port­ers.

For Demo­crats, the only way to pass a DHS bill is without amend­ments de­fund­ing Obama’s uni­lat­er­al ac­tions. “Sep­ar­a­tion’s im­port­ant,” Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip Dick Durbin said after the press con­fer­ence, “and the or­der if it’s go­ing to be ac­com­plished be­fore the dead­line really re­quires us to move to the fund­ing bill first.”

“If this is a clean fund­ing bill for the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cur­ity, it’s go­ing to have a lot of Demo­crat­ic sup­port,” Durbin ad­ded.

The deal ap­peared to still be very del­ic­ate Tues­day af­ter­noon, however, when a seni­or GOP House aide ac­cused Demo­crats of de­mand­ing too much.

“Ap­par­ently in­spired by Pres­id­ent Obama’s own over­reach, Sen­at­or Re­id is now shame­lessly threat­en­ing to fili­buster a ‘clean’ Home­land Se­cur­ity fund­ing bill,” the aide said. “The Amer­ic­an people are watch­ing, and there will be con­sequences for Sen­ate Demo­crats’ hy­po­crisy and ir­re­spons­ib­il­ity.”

Demo­crats will need to agree to Mc­Con­nell’s new plan for the DHS fund­ing bill to move for­ward. The minor­ity—or at least six of its mem­bers—will have to agree to al­low the Sen­ate to take up the House-passed DHS bill, which Demo­crats have already voted down four times. The House bill cur­rently in­cludes sev­er­al amend­ments de­fund­ing Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions on im­mig­ra­tion from the past three years, but Mc­Con­nell has prom­ised that he would move to re­move them once Demo­crats agree to get on the bill.

If Demo­crats con­tin­ue to fili­buster the fund­ing bill, Mc­Con­nell said Tues­day he would bring up the im­mig­ra­tion meas­ure from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Fri­day any­way.

“Every ex­cuse that they’ve had, we’ve now taken away, and they’re still ob­ject­ing,” Stew­art said.

This story is break­ing and will be up­dated.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­labeled Sens. Harry Re­id and Mitch Mc­Con­nell. Mc­Con­nell is the Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, Re­id the Sen­ate minor­ity lead­er.

Contributions by Rachel Roubein