Cave: House to strip out provisions opposing executive amnesty, vote on clean long-term funding bill for DHS

DHS is funded through the end of the week, so Boehner didn’t have to make his move today. But with most of the media focused on Bibi Netanyahu’s speech, he probably decided to use the distraction to try to bury the news of his capitulation. That’s appropriate. A fiasco this total should end with an air of shame around it.

After months of indecision and strife, Boehner told GOP lawmakers he plans to allow a vote as early as Tuesday on a clean bill to fund the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the fiscal year, dashing the hopes of conservatives who want to tie the money to language clocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration…

“So he just caved in there,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp said of Boehner, adding: “Guess he forgot that a number of us had recommended that this was a poor strategy back in December.”…

“As you’ve heard me say a number of times, the House has done its job by passing legislation to fund DHS and block the president’s executive actions on immigration,” Boehner said, according to the source. “Unfortunately, the fight was never won in the other chamber. Democrats stayed united and blocked our bill, and our Republican colleagues in the Senate never found a way to win this fight. The three-week CR we offered would have kept this fight going and allowed us to continue to put pressure on Senate Democrats to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that plan was rejected.”

The most charitable theory I can come up with for why Boehner and McConnell thought this goony standoff might work is that they honestly didn’t know how the Senate’s few remaining centrist Democrats would react to the GOP midterm tsunami last year. Maybe Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp and the remaining purple-state survivors would be so spooked by back-to-back Republican waves, knowing that their own seats will be up in 2018, that they’d panic and vote for the House bill tying DHS funding to blocking Obama’s executive amnesty. If that had happened and the bill had passed, it would have been a cannon shot at the White House: Not only did Republicans have control of Congress, it would have showed O, but they’ve got a bunch of jittery Dems willing to make their challenges to the administration bipartisan. In the end, Boehner and McConnell lost their bet as centrist Dems stayed loyal to Obama and Reid.

We can argue over whether that bet was worth making. What we can’t argue over is this:

Why indeed? According to National Journal, Boehner told the GOP caucus this morning, “With more active threats coming into the homeland, I don’t believe [a DHS shutdown is] an option. Imagine if, God forbid, another terrorist attack hits the United States.” Okay, but then why did they refuse to fund DHS in the “cromnibus” bill in the first place? The point of withholding DHS’s money at the time was to put pressure on Obama to agree to the GOP’s conditions on amnesty. If Republicans were unwilling to let DHS shut down — which we all knew, including Obama, and which John Thune openly admitted two months ago — then there was never any pressure on O at all. It was transparently a bluff, and both the White House and the Senate’s centrist Democrats knew it. It was guaranteed to fail.

That’s the takeaway here. Ace was pounding the table last night over this story in The Hill about Boehner supposedly having made a backroom deal with Pelosi to bring up a clean long-term funding bill for DHS this week if her caucus bailed him out before last week’s deadline by supporting a short-term funding bill on Friday. A Democratic aide insists that a deal was struck, and Pelosi and Steny Hoyer were coy about it when asked. But I’m not sure there was a deal. If you’re a smart strategist like Pelosi, why would you need an explicit commitment from Boehner to know that he was set to cave? Once the Democratic centrists in the Senate refused to bend, this surrender was inevitable — and designed to be so once GOP leaders settled on DHS funding as their alleged “pressure point” in the cromnibus in December. Remember, Boehner and McConnell took office in January determined to show voters that Republicans could be trusted to govern responsibly, i.e. with no more shutdowns or debt-ceiling standoffs. They chose DHS’s money as their leverage on amnesty not because they thought it would make Obama blink but because they knew it’d be easier to sell an eventual capitulation on that money to conservatives. “We can’t withhold the funding!” they could say. “ISIS will overrun Washington!” And some righties, persuaded by hyper-hawks like John McCain that withholding one thin dime from nonessential DHS personnel would cause a national security crisis, will let them off the hook. The whole DHS/amnesty standoff was just a pander to righties with an escape clause — “we must fund our homeland’s security!” — built in. Washington Republicans aren’t so good at outmaneuvering Barack Obama or Harry Reid, but they’re darned good at outmaneuvering their own base. And they should be. They seem to spend most of their time on it.

The only remaining check on Obama is the courts. If that wasn’t already painfully clear before today, it is now.