By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican congressional leaders refused to give up on a Homeland Security funding bill that seeks to block President Barack Obama's immigration actions, even though it failed to clear a Senate procedural hurdle for the third consecutive day.
After Democrats prevented the bill from gaining the 60 votes needed to advance on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to keep the bill alive and bring it up for more votes in coming days.
Congress faces a Feb. 27 deadline to renew the spending authority for Homeland Security, which spearheads domestic counterterrorism efforts and secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters.
Although many of its critical protective functions would continue even if funding lapses, the agency would be forced to idle about 30,000 employees, or 15 percent of the workforce, at a time of heightened worries about terrorist attacks.
The inability of the Senate's new Republican majority to pass the measure has frustrated Republicans in the House of Representatives, who approved the bill last month with provisions blocking spending to implement Obama's orders lifting the threat of deportation for thousands of undocumented immigrants.
Obama, who has threatened to veto the House-passed measure, and Democrats are insisting on a "clean" Homeland Security bill with no immigration restrictions.
Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, a state with a large immigrant population, again voted with Democrats and two independents against the measure on Thursday.
"They're not going to win this fight, so they may as well pass a clean bill and move forward," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. "You can see they're flummoxed."
Republican aides said the repeated Senate votes were designed to illustrate for the public that Democrats are blocking the $39.7 billion funding bill, including potential amendments that could improve it.
The votes also demonstrate McConnell's support of the agenda of Republican conservatives, while making clear to those conservatives that the restrictions on Obama's immigration order do not have enough votes to pass the Senate.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he did not know if McConnell has "an end game" for passing a bill. He called for Senate Republicans and Democrats "to hold the president accountable" for his executive immigration actions.
"He's got a tough job over there," Boehner said of McConnell. "I've got a tough job over here. God bless him and good luck."
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by John Whitesides and Lisa Shumaker)