Punt: Boehner to offer "clean" three-week funding bill for DHS to buy time on amnesty strategy; Update: Boehner can't find the votes? Update: Bill fails, 203-224

I don’t want to beat up on him (much) because McConnell’s the one who blew the GOP’s leverage by splitting DHS funding from amnesty repeal. Essentially, McConnell sided with Reid in telling Boehner that if DHS shuts down, it’ll be House Republicans’ fault. Boehner’s playing a bad hand dealt to him by his supposed ally in the Senate.


But even so, how is his play here a winning one? What does a three-week reprieve achieve? It’s the worst of both worlds. Not only do Democrats get a clean funding bill for Homeland Security short-term with Obama’s amnesty still fully intact, they get to humiliate Boehner and McConnell all over again next month when GOP leaders inevitably still can’t figure a way out of this mess.

The House will vote Friday on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security for three weeks in an attempt to avert a shutdown slated for Saturday at the massive agency…

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the new strategy to his rank-and-file members during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday night. Senior Republicans predicted it would win enough support to clear the lower chamber.

“I think we’ve got plentiful support. I was very pleased with the response. I think it’ll be a very strong vote,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after the meeting…

House Democrats said they are whipping against the measure, which could make it difficult for Republicans to win the 218 votes necessary for passage given grumbling from some on the right that the measure would do nothing to attack President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.


Sounds like Boehner’s going to have to do this with Republican votes, which means he can only afford to lose 27 conservatives. My gut says he’ll lose more than that, just because this humiliating fiasco won’t be complete without an embarrassing floor-vote failure for the GOP at the last minute. But maybe I’m wrong: House conservatives also understand that McConnell, not Boehner, is chiefly to blame for their loss of leverage. Maybe they’ll cut Boehner a break temporarily and vote for a three-week punt, knowing that if he tries to pass a clean long-term bill for DHS next month with no immigration concessions, they can always vote no then and kill that bill.

So what’s the plan for next month? The first option is to get the Senate to go to a conference committee to reconcile the House GOP’s anti-amnesty DHS bill with a clean Senate funding bill. But that option’s dead on arrival: Harry Reid, the de facto leader of the Senate even now, says Democrats won’t provide the votes needed to get to 60 and trigger the conference. The second option is to cross their fingers and hope that the Fifth Circuit upholds the injunction against Obama’s amnesty issued by a federal judge in Texas a few weeks ago. If that happens, the GOP could declare victory, claim that the courts did their job for them, and pass a clean DHS funding bill with a clear conscience. Call this the “deus ex machina” strategy, which isn’t so much a strategy as it is a prayer. Problem is, no one knows when the Fifth Circuit will rule or how it’ll rule (although it’s a bit more right-leaning than many other federal appellate courts). What happens if there’s no ruling three weeks from now? What happens if they rule and block Obama’s amnesty, whereupon congressional Republicans forfeit their power of the purse by funding DHS — and then SCOTUS reverses the Fifth Circuit next year by allowing amnesty to proceed? Why should a (supposedly) co-equal branch trust another to achieve an important policy end when it has the power, at least theoretically, to achieve that end itself?


Here’s how this is probably going to go. Like I say, if the Fifth Circuit upholds the injunction, the GOP will declare victory and move on. If the Fifth Circuit overturns the injunction, the state AGs who are suing Obama will assuredly appeal to the Supreme Court — and GOP leaders will then cite that as a reason to declare victory. “Why should we drag out this Homeland Security standoff when we have a five-justice majority on the big court waiting to hear this appeal?” they’ll say. Imagine how grimly funny it’ll be if, after a long-term DHS funding bill passes, SCOTUS decides not to hear the appeal after all. Will grassroots righties even bother to demand that Boehner and McConnell try to use the power of the purse again? If so, why? The second trip into this box canyon won’t go any better than the first has. Exit question: How come a collection of the GOP’s finest strategic minds, which surely saw this logjam coming two months ago when the “cromnibus” passed, needs more time to decide what to do about it? It’s a little like a math teacher writing an exam and then postponing it because he needs more time to figure out the answers.

Update: A statement in my inbox from a House Republican leadership aide:


“A DHS shutdown would not stop Obama’s amnesty. A three-week CR avoids a shutdown, keeps the fight alive, ensures Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday won’t be overshadowed, and will give us a clearer picture of where the court case is going.

“This isn’t about Republicans needing more time to decide what to do. The House passed its bill January 14. The Senate attempted to vote on it four times since February 3. A judge put a hold on the president’s unilateral action February 17. We’re sticking to our goal: fund DHS and stop Obama’s amnesty.

“As Speaker Boehner tweeted this morning: ‘We are not giving in to Senate Democrats’ blackmail. Will keep fighting Obama’s unilateral action on immigration to protect Constitution.’”

Update: Here’s the state of play as of 5 p.m. ET. Like I told you, there’s only one fitting way for this fiasco to end.

Update: It wasn’t even close.

Fully 51 Republicans voted no. I need a drink.

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