WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans reacted tepidly Wednesday to calls to avoid a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security and agree to fund it for another year without contentious immigration provisions opposed by President Barack Obama.
Spending for the department, which oversees the nation’s borders, expires Friday at midnight. If Congress doesn’t act before then, the shutdown would mean almost 90 percent of the department’s workers who are considered essential would have to work without pay until the situation is resolved. The showdown is therefore unlikely to have an immediate impact on U.S. security beyond worsening morale.
The ball is in the House of Representative’s court after Senate Republicans offered to allow a vote on a bill to fund the agency without provisions that would overturn Obama’s executive actions on immigration — a proposal Senate Democrats said Wednesday that they would support.
House Speaker John Boehner declined repeatedly to say what he would recommend to his conservative, fractious rank-and-file if the funding bill clears the Senate.
“I’m waiting for the Senate to act. The House has done their job,” he said Wednesday after a closed-door meeting of the rank-and-file. Even so, lawmakers were told to be prepared to spend the weekend in the Capitol to resolve the issue.
Several House Republicans insisted they could not accept the two-part strategy proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: a vote on legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and a separate vote to overturn Obama’s recent executive actions sparing millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
The approach “is tantamount to surrender,” said Republican Rep. Matt Salmon. “I will fight against any funding bill that does not fully defund the president’s illegal actions.”
Yet with the partial shutdown looming, options were few for Republicans who won full control of Congress in November’s elections.
They could allow the agency’s funding to expire, violating their leaders’ promises that there would be no more shutdowns on the Republicans’ watch. They could try to pass a short-term extension of current funding levels, postponing the conflict to another day. Or they could go along with McConnell’s strategy of funding the agency fully while registering their disapproval of Obama’s immigration policies with a separate vote.
McConnell’s concession came as Senate Democrats repeatedly raised the issue of terrorism against the Republicans, suggesting a partial shutdown would put the U.S. at risk at a dangerous time.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that inadequate funding after Friday’s midnight deadline would deal the department a substantial blow.
“It’s like trying to drive across country on no more than five miles of gas at a time and you don’t know when the next gas station is going to appear,” he said.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, David Espo, Jennifer Kerr, Andrew Taylor, Charles Babington, Alan Fram and Steven Ohlemacher contributed to this report.
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