WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans put Democrats on record for a second time Wednesday against legislation combining Homeland Security funding with rollbacks of President Barack Obama's immigration policies. But there was little evidence Congress was any closer to a solution to fund the department past Feb. 27 as that deadline approaches.
The vote in the Senate was 53 to 47, similar to Tuesday's vote on a similar procedural measure, and well short of the 60 votes that would be needed to open debate on a House-passed Homeland Security measure. The bill would pay for the Homeland department through Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year, and undo Obama's executive actions limiting deportations for millions of people who are in the United States illegally.
Another procedural vote was expected Thursday, with perhaps more to come.
"Is that the definition of insanity, voting on the same bill over and over again?" Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., quipped to reporters ahead of Wednesday's vote.
Democrats said that no matter how many times Republicans held the vote, the outcome would be the same unless the contested language on immigration was removed.
"This is pretty simple," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "At a time when the world is united in trying to send a strong signal about confronting ISIS and defeating ISIS, I think putting veto bait in the funding for homeland security is a very bad idea." ISIS is one acronym for the militant Islamic State group that has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq.
But if the point was to prove to House conservatives that their legislation would not fly in the Senate, where the Democratic minority holds more sway, the goal had not yet been met.
"We have the strategy, it's to do what the American people sent us to do. That's our legislation," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, arguing the public was counting on Republicans to block an unconstitutional overreach by Obama. "I look at it as a chance for seven Democratic senators to find Jesus and do the right thing."
From the White House, Obama countered the GOP by hosting an Oval Office meeting with a half-dozen young immigrants protected by his policies. The GOP legislation would subject Obama's visitors to eventual deportation.
After the meeting, Obama accused Republicans of ignoring the "human consequences" of their legislation and repeated his threat to veto the bill if it reached his desk. As for GOP efforts to link homeland security money to reversing his immigration action, Obama said, "There is no logic to that position."
"Why would you cut off your nose to spite your face by defunding the very operations that are involved in making sure we have strong border security?" he said.
Indeed, most agreed that Congress would find a way to approve the funding, even if it meant passing a short-term extension ahead of the Feb. 27 deadline before coming up with a final deal.
How and when lawmakers would get there was less clear in a new era of divided government, with Republicans in full control of Congress for the first time in eight years and Obama ready and willing to wield his veto pen.
Senate Republicans, including moderate Susan Collins of Maine, were looking for a way out with alternate legislation to fund the department and roll back the new administration policies limiting deportations while keeping protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
"I think it's a good solution and a way to resolve an impasse that has the potential to cause some real harm," said Collins. But with Democrats refusing to even debate the legislation unless all the immigration language was removed, it was unclear whether her measure would shift the debate.
In the House, lawmakers were debating options, including trying to split up the Homeland bill or link it to a lawsuit against Obama.
But with about three weeks left before the deadline, several conservatives said they were still sticking with Plan A.
"This is the plan and so I say charge forward with it," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a leading hardliner. He said that because essential department services would continue even if funding lapses, "I am really not worried about the 27th coming and going."
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.