For the fourth time on Monday night, Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security with a provision that removes funding for the implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Faced with the glaring reality that Democrats would like nothing more than to force a “shutdown” of DHS, McConnell is apparently giving up.
As Allahpundit previewed on Monday, the Senate Republicans are staging a tactical retreat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will break up the DHS funding bill and introduce two separate measures. One will fund DHS without any provision related to Obama’s immigration orders. In another, the Senate GOP majority will try to force those Democrats who have gone on the record calling Obama’s 2014 executive orders an overreach by the president to back up their rhetoric with action.
Decoupling the two bills puts at least seven senators who caucus with Democrats—who have said they oppose the president’s action—on notice. Over the past several weeks, Sens. Joe Donnelly, Al Franken, Heidi Heitkamp, Angus King, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, and Mark Warner have argued that the issue should not be part of an appropriations measure. McConnell, they said, was holding the DHS funding hostage.
The plan, as McConnell has laid it out, forces those senators to go on the record either in support of the president’s action or against it, without the backdrop of the DHS spending bill to excuse their votes.
Should the plan convince the majority of those senators, McConnell will be able to pass the immigration bill defunding Obama’s executive action and then bring up a clean DHS spending bill—which will pass both chambers easily—ahead of Friday night’s deadline to fund the department. If it doesn’t, he and Republican candidates and operatives around the country will be able to label those Democrats “hypocrites,” while leaving GOP leaders with the headache of how to keep DHS open. Or, as freshman Sen. James Lankford tweeted Monday evening: “It appears Senate Dems are more interested in protecting the President’s illegal #immigration execution action than protecting the homeland.”
Realistically, the best that Republicans could have hoped for with the fight over DHS funding was a bill that would narrowly pass with Democratic votes (presumably, after jettisoning House provisions that would have also de-funded the 2011 Morton Memos and 2012’s DACA) and would be vetoed by the president. Obama was never going to sign an order that would de-fund his own executive action. And, like Democrats, he has nothing to fear from a DHS “shutdown” – polls suggest that the public will blame the GOP for that eventuality even if Democrats are pulling the trigger. But forcing a veto would have been a moral victory, and one would have which allowed Republicans to position themselves as defenders of existing law in opposition to a lawless executive.
Now, however, with McConnell embracing a maneuver that ostensibly averts the prospects for a DHS shutdown, the best that Republicans can hope for is an opportunity to catch Democrats engaging in a bit of hypocrisy? This might come as a shock to Senate Republican leadership, but they are not short on opportunities to call their Democratic colleagues out on duplicity. Moreover, catching Democrats being blatant hypocrites never seems to interest the press all that much, particularly when they are engaging in that dishonesty in order to protect the president. If any component of the Republican strategy for victory here involves the cooperation of the press, it is a fatally flawed plan.
But the real kicker here is the fact that McConnell’s move might not even successfully prevent a DHS shutdown. “Unless Democrats agree to move more quickly, under Senate rules the soonest the chamber could have a cloture vote on McConnell’s new bill would be Friday, pushing a vote on final passage into early next week — after DHS has shut down,” The National Journal reported.
Okay, so let’s get this straight. Republicans have sacrificed all their leverage over Democrats by abandoning the position that the Department of Homeland Security should not fund Obama’s immigration orders. They did so in order to rob the media the opportunity to play Democratic National Committee communications shop for a week amid a DHS “shutdown” (which would look nothing like a true shutdown, as you already know). In the process, Republicans have given Democrats the opportunity to still push the vote to fund DHS past a shutdown deadline, effectively precipitating what Republicans seem to see as the worst case scenario. And the best possible outcome that Republicans can hope for is either A) the Senate sends a bill limited only to 2014’s DAPA immigration orders to Obama’s desk where it dies a quick death or B) they catch Democrats being hypocrites should they continue to block this measure.
The Republican base is not going to be happy with this, and they have every reason to feel a little betrayed. Republicans in Congress should have said clearly, early and often, that the Congress alone was unlikely to be able to prevent or even forestall the implementation of Obama’s executive orders. As such, the expectations for the new Republican majority in the Senate were set unrealistically high. The Senate GOP leadership’s current approach, however, seems unlikely to result in even a modest victory over Democrats and the president.
Writing in The Hill this morning, President Obama exposed the fact that Republicans are not necessarily the biggest obstacle to the implementation of his 2014 executive actions. The courts are.
Understandably, however, much recent attention has focused on a single court decision in Texas in response to a partisan lawsuit that delays some of these lawful, common-sense steps. To those who are affected and disturbed by this ruling, I share your concerns. To those who have questions, the Department of Homeland Security will continue to provide information.
But make no mistake, I disagree with this judge’s ruling. Just yesterday, the Department of Justice asked the court for an emergency stay of this misguided decision, and it has already filed a notice of appeal. My administration will fight this ruling with every tool at our disposal, and I have full confidence that these actions will ultimately be upheld.
That doesn’t resonate with the confidence the president would like to project. Republicans may yet be rescued by the courts, but they would deserve no credit for that minor victory if they are.