Will the 'Clean' DHS Vote Muddy Boehner's Speakership?

WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders finally crumbled to growing pressure and allowed a “clean” vote on legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year without provisions aimed at overturning President Obama’s executive orders on immigration – a move that drew the ire of conservatives.

The measure, which provides $40 billion for the department’s operations, passed 257-167 as a result of overwhelming support from minority Democrats – only 75 Republicans voted for it. The bill now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.

By allowing the vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) violated what has come to be known unofficially as the Hastert Rule, which only allows consideration of legislation that carries the support of a majority of the Republican caucus.

The move further alienates Boehner from the party’s conservative wing and drew immediate condemnation from aggrieved lawmakers who favored a brinksmanship strategy that likely would have led to a temporary DHS shutdown.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said the vote “weakened our Constitution” by failing to reject Obama’s executive orders.

“This isn’t just an action that has passed through this body that I disagree with,” Salmon said. “This is an unlawful, unconstitutional order given by the president of the United States to his administration. This action deliberately sabotages our laws, allowing individuals who Congress has expressly mandated be expelled from our nation to stay, to live as citizens, and to hold jobs.”

Salmon said Congress had “a duty to ourselves and the Constitution” to overturn the actions of the White House.

“This isn’t about party,” Salmon said. “This isn’t about policy. It isn’t about politics. My opposition to this bill is based primarily on the fundamental separation of powers which the president has violated.”

The vote has a complicated history and centers on Obama’s decision to, among other things, expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits illegal immigrants who entered the country as youths to remain without fear of extradition. In all, the orders allowed about 5 million of the nation’s 11 million undocumented individuals to remain within the U.S. with some sense of security.

The action was taken without congressional action. Obama said he was forced to act because lawmakers didn’t.

Congressional Republicans seethed over the president’s unilateral action and looked for an opportunity to reverse it. When Congress passed a spending plan late last year, it provided only temporary funding for the Department of Homeland Security. When the 114th Congress convened in January, the House passed legislation funding the agency along with language overturning the executive orders.

But the measure bogged down in the Senate, where minority Democrats insisted on a clean bill without the immigration language. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, proved unable to break a filibuster and eventually acquiesced and passed a bill that dealt only with funding.

The House balked. The chambers agreed to temporarily extend funding for a week, delaying final action. Finally, Boehner and other GOP House leaders determined there was no alternative but to adopt the Senate’s clean bill.

Appearing before the Republican caucus before the final vote, Boehner reportedly asserted that he was “outraged and frustrated” by what he termed “the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president.”

But Boehner also said the House had no alternative – blocking DHS funding at a delicate time for national security wasn’t the right way to proceed.

Boehner also noted that a court in Texas has blocked implementation of the president’s executive orders. Congressional action may not even prove necessary.

House Democrats hailed the vote as a victory. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said the vote should “remove all doubt to our enemies, to American families and to the affected workers that we will fully fund the Department of Homeland Security.”

“Today, we have an opportunity, in a bipartisan way, to strengthen the homeland security of our nation. The Senate has voted in a bipartisan way and House Democrats have made it clear we support full, long-term funding. We shouldn’t wait another day to remove all doubt to our enemies, to American families and to the affected workers that we will fully fund the Department of Homeland Security.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Congress “has done a good thing. It has fully funded homeland security. It has provided our people a strong bipartisan vote of confidence in the importance of their work.”

“Now our men and women can return to the vital work of combatting terrorism, ensuring border security, port security, aviation security, cybersecurity, and our other vital homeland security missions, without the uncertainty of a furlough or a delayed paycheck hanging over their heads,” he said.

But conservative lawmakers remained unsatisfied. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the leading voices opposing the immigration executive orders, said “our Constitution, that we all took an oath to support and defend, was eviscerated.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said the results of the 2014 election proved that the American people oppose funding the immigration orders.

“We know President Obama’s actions are unconstitutional,” he said. “Conservative and liberal legal scholars have said these actions are unconstitutional. President Obama said himself 22 times that he couldn’t do what he did. And the only federal judge to rule on his actions said that what he did was wrong. But Democrats in the Senate put President Obama’s actions ahead of national security and the will of the people.”

Jordan said the president’s action is “patently unfair.”

“In the past several weeks we’ve learned illegal non-citizens are going to participate in our social security system, will be eligible for tax refunds, and as Ohio’s own Secretary of State Jon Husted testified in Congress, there’s a greater potential now that they could participate in our election process.”

Despite the complaints, no one in the House Republican caucus is publicly calling for Boehner’s ouster as a result of the decision to proceed to a vote. The speaker has drawn some opposition in the past. Twenty-five GOP conservatives voted against Boehner when the leadership was re-elected to the post in January, maintaining that he was neither conservative enough nor strong enough to stand up to Democrats and the Obama administration.