House GOP weighs new approach on Homeland Security

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2015 7:58 PM
House GOP weighs new approach on Homeland Security

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sounding retreat, House Republicans agreed Thursday to push short-term funding to prevent a partial shutdown at the Homeland Security Department while leaving in place Obama administration immigration policies they have vowed to repeal.

"The speaker's pretty adamant that he's not going to shut down Homeland Security, especially in light of the Mall of America and in light of what's happened in New York," said Rep. Dennis Ross., R-Fla., emerging from a closed-door strategy session with the Republican rank-and-file.

He referred to a suggestion made by one terrorist group that a sympathizer should attack the Mall of America, an enormous shopping facility in Minnesota, as well as the arrests Wednesday in Brooklyn of men charged with plotting to help Islamic State fighters.

Ross and other Republicans said legislation to fund DHS for three weeks would be put to a vote in the House on Friday.

Senate Democratic officials indicated they would agree to the measure, and predicted President Barack Obama would sign the measure, averting a partial shutdown of an agency with major anti-terrorism responsibilities.

Outlining a second step in a revised strategy, Ross said House Republicans would also seek negotiations on a separate spending bill on track for Senate passage on Friday. It would fund the agency through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year while also rolling back Obama's immigration directives.

Senate rules require 60 votes to initiate formal compromise talks between the houses on any bill, and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in advance his party would use its strength to prevent that from happening in the current clash.

Anticipating that, some Republicans made the case inside the strategy session for simply conceding defeat and agreeing to a longer-term funding bill without conditions, according to officials who attended the session.

In addition, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., and a former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told reporters that lawmakers should think of the consequences "if a bomb goes off in their district." To consider shuttering the agency "is wrong politically, morally and governmentally. Politically it's going to kill us. Morally, you're equating an immigration order with the lives of American citizens," he said.

Without legislation signed into law by the weekend, an estimated 30,000 Homeland Security employees would be furloughed beginning Monday. Tens of thousands more would be expected to work without pay. Many Republicans have said they fear they would pay a political price for even a partial shutdown at the department, which has major responsibilities for anti-terrorism.

The proposal under consideration by House Republicans marked a retreat from their longstanding insistence that no money be approved for Homeland Security as long as Obama's immigration directives remained in place. Yet it followed by a few days an announcement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he was moving to uncouple the two issues.

Whatever the eventual outcome, it appeared Obama was closing in on a triumph in his latest showdown with the Republican-controlled Congress. GOP leaders announced last fall they would attempt to force a rollback in his immigration policy by tying the issue to funds at Homeland Security, a trade-off he has adamantly opposed since it was first broached.

With directives issued in 2012 and late last year, Obama largely eliminated the threat of deportation for more than 4 million immigrants who entered the country illegally, including some brought to the United States as youngsters by their parents.

Republicans say the president is acting unconstitutionally, and a federal judge in Texas recently issued an order that temporarily blocked the administration from carrying out Obama's 2014 policy.

The White House has appealed that ruling, and Obama, expressing confidence he will prevail, said Wednesday he would take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

At a news conference earlier Thursday, John Boehner offered no hint of a change in GOP strategy, repeatedly turning aside questions on the subject.

"When I make decisions, I'll let you know," he said when asked what the House's reaction would be if the Senate approved a no-strings bill to keep DHS in operation.

At his news conference, Boehner betrayed no concern that rebellious conservatives might try to topple him from power if he didn't hold firm in demanding the White House cede ground on immigration.

"No, heaven's sakes no. Not at all," he said.

Although loath to provide information, Boehner betrayed no tension over his latest legislative struggle.

Fending off one question, he puckered his lips as if to send kisses in the direction of a reporter who asked what his plan was.

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AP reporters Charles Babington, Andrew Taylor and Laurie Kellman contributed to this story.