The attacks in Paris last week have Republican leaders rethinking their strategy to shut down the Department of Homeland Security if they can’t defund the president’s immigration executive orders.
In reality, the attacks make it impossible.
While Republicans are unified in their desire to reverse the executive order Obama issued after Election Day shielding an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, some are warning Tea Party colleagues such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) not to take the fight too far.
“Defunding that part of the bill that deals with enforcing the executive order makes sense but we can’t go too far here because look what happened in Paris. The Department of Homeland Security needs to be up and running,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) on Friday called it “absolutely essential” that counterterrorism be funded given the spate of attacks around the world.
A Senate GOP aide warned that Democrats would pounce on a departmental shutdown to accuse Republicans of prioritizing the desires of their conservative base over national security.
“There’s no question that if the DHS shuts down in some way, Democrats will do everything to take full advantage of the situation,” the aide said.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Republicans would lose the public relations battle over homeland security, especially after the deadly attacks on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
“Republican efforts to play politics with Department of Homeland Security, which is actively engaged against the threat posed by ISIS, is a dangerous and risky move that can backfire,” the aide said, making reference to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“The House proposal is an attempt to throw a hunk of red meat to the right at a time when the nation is at risk for attack,” the aide added.
House Republicans held a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss using the Homeland Security funding bill to fight Obama’s immigration policies, just as authorities in Paris were in two separate standoffs with suspected terrorists.
Leaders “kept emphasizing” the House package would be narrowly tailored toward stopping Obama’s executive actions and would not jeopardize funding for things like border security and counterterrorism measures, said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).
They plan to move legislation next week that would fund the department through the end of the fiscal year along with amendments to block Obama’s unilateral action on immigration, fulfilling a promise many Republicans campaigned on in the fall.
Even if DHS goes dark, the president’s executive orders would probably continue to be implemented. National Journal looked at the scenario of a Homeland Security Department shutdown:
It’s likely that the majority of DHS employees would still go to work. And the main agency tasked with overseeing the program in question, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is funded through fees rather than appropriations legislation.
It’s not clear that GOP leaders will have much leverage. Aside from the potential political fallout if the department runs out of cash, it turns out that a DHS “shutdown” might be one in name only, and Obama’s executive order might well proceed as planned.
No matter how carefully tailored the amendments to defund the executive orders are, the fact is, the Senate won’t even consider it. Republicans need 5 votes in the upper chamber to avoid a filibuster and they’re coming up short. So, in order for the DHS funding bill to reach the floor, Senate Republicans are going to have to agree to remove the defunding amendments.
Democrats will demagogue the issue for all it’s worth, accusing the Republicans of putting the country at risk to satisfy their conservative base. That’s a very hard narrative to counter with the Paris terrorist attacks fresh in everyone’s mind.
There’s a chance that with the clock ticking toward the end of February when the shortterm DHS funding runs out, that another continuing resolution funding the department for a few weeks longer could be passed. But this would be delaying the inevitable. Eventually, Mitch McConnell and a majority of Republican senators will relent and allow the DHS funding bill to come to the floor minus the defunding amendments. Practically speaking, they won’t have a choice.
And the House? Speaker Boehner will make sure the full funding bill without the defunding amendments makes it through and is sent to the president’s desk.
Some conservatives will scream bloody murder. But even without the Paris attacks occurring, the defunding gambit was a risky endeavor. From what we’ve seen of this administration, the discretionary decisions to shut down some programs and fund others will no doubt be maximized for PR value. And the administration will make sure the country knows who has put America at risk.