With top Senate Democrats resolutely vowing to block any bill that seeks to restrict from President Obama’s desk, and filibustering the Department of Homeland Security funding bill to prevent it from even coming to the Senate floor, GOP senators are all over the map on how to respond.
Conservatives including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) want to press on, making Democrats pay a political price for instituting gridlock on behalf of the president’s unpopular order. But moderates such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are openly expressing fear about the outcome of a partial government shutdown if no agreement is reached.
“I don’t know. We are having constant discussions on what the strategy is, but we can’t shut down DHS. Not with the threats that the homeland is subjected to with the rise of ISIS,” McCain said.
And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the DHS bill is a perfect opportunity to consider broader immigration reform measures, which adds additional uncertainty.
In the short-term, Republicans are likely to make Democrats filibuster the DHS bill more than once, potentially peeling off Democrats who have previously expressed concern about executive amnesty.
But Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) vowed that Democrats won’t crack.
“They are saying, we’re going to take a hostage, and then we want you to negotiate over the price. No way, Mr. Cruz, no way,” Schumer said, referring to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “We are resolute as a caucus, united unanimously that that will not happen.”
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner put the onus on Sessions and Cruz to pass the bill in the Senate, widely seen as a mocking gesture to the two outspoken immigration hawks in the Capitol that have occasionally made Boehner’s efforts to pass House bills more difficult.
The hostile overture to members of his own party underscores the enmity between the wings of the GOP and the difficulty the party will have in coming to its own accord, let alone an agreement with the Democrats on how to fund DHS.
But Sessions, asked about Boehner’s remarks, professed he was glad to hear it.
“I appreciate his support. I hope he’ll keep advocating for the bill he passed. I think good, strong, active support from the speaker and others in our conference is the right thing,” Sessions said.
Cruz declined to comment.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, suggested the GOP should keep the pressure on Democrats.
“Our reaction ought to be, we’re happy to fund DHS. Why do you want to fund, for example, permanent social security cards for people that came to this country illegally?” he said.
Rubio, meanwhile, said the bill was an opportunity to consider broader immigration reform proposals.
There are things we should be doing on immigration irrespective of the president’s executive order. And that includes what I think is the key to actually solving the immigration problem of this country is to prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control. I think if we could do that then we could make quick and substantial progress on both modernizing legal immigration and addressing the plight of those that are in this country illegally. But I think the first step has to be to put in place something that helps us win the confidence of the American people that future illegal immigration is under control.
“I think having a debate on this issue is the perfect opportunity to do that,” Rubio added.
In his remarks, McCain expressed deep opposition to holding firm until the Feb. 27 deadline when DHS funding expires under current law, saying that it might result in unpopular results including the closure of National Parks.
However, the National Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior, which is funded by a separate appropriations bill that has been extended well into 2015.
McCain also said fighting on the DHS appropriations bill was not the right venue for opposing Obama’s executive amnesty, saying instead Republicans should use the “normal appropriations process” and other vehicles.
“I think there are many ways to do it, through the normal appropriations process, through authorizations, through hearings – I mean there’s lots of ways besides the draconian measure, and the last measure, is shutting down the government. That’s not something the American people approve of,” McCain said.
Sessions said the impasse with Democrats is a political opportunity.
“I think we need to state the case to the American people that the House has done its duty, it’s funded Homeland Security $40 billion in funding, and it just simply says the president can’t take money that was authorized, appropriated to enforce law to undermine law. That’s all it does. It’s the Democrats, if there’s any problem with funding, it’s directly the result of Democratic obstruction,” he said.