POLITICS

Democrats Defiant On DHS Funding As Shutdown Looms

02/26/2015 12:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Democrats indicated on Thursday that they won't give House Speaker John Boehner much room to maneuver on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, including on a possible short-term bill to avert a department shutdown.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she told Boehner that Democrats want a full-year funding bill, not something that will only keep the department open for a matter of days or weeks.

"We can't get involved with five days, seven days and all of that nonsense," she said at a joint press conference with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Let's just get the job done on time."

A short-term bill may be needed to avert a DHS shutdown if lawmakers cannot pass a bill by the end of the day Friday, when department funding will run out. House Republicans have remained insistent that they must wait for the Senate to act before they can discuss their own path forward, including whether they will approve the "clean" DHS bill that the Senate is set to pass, or send it back with immigration measures attached.

Reid didn't explicitly vow to block a short-term funding bill, but did lay out his own red line: Senate Democrats, he said, will not compromise if the House sends the Senate bill back with riders that block President Barack Obama's deportation relief policies. This is a real possibility, given that many Republican members say they will only agree on a funding bill that includes such riders. Reid said if the House passes a bill with immigration measures, they should get the blame for a DHS shutdown.

"We've heard all kinds of rumors that the House is going to take our fully-funded bill and send it back with a number of riders on it," Reid said. "It is a waste of time. We will not allow a conference to take place. It won't happen."

The two minority leaders' remarks made clear that DHS is still very much at risk of a shutdown, which would begin on Saturday. Under an agreement reached Wednesday, the Senate will vote on a clean DHS funding bill -- that is, without immigration measures -- and will vote later on separate legislation that would limit Obama's deportation relief programs. Reid said Democrats will not stand in the way of that later vote, as long as DHS gets funded. It's still uncertain what the timing will be for the vote on the clean funding bill.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what the House will do. Boehner refused repeatedly at a press conference on Thursday to answer questions about how his caucus will move forward, saying he would first have to see what the Senate passes -- even after one reporter pointed out that the upper chamber's leaders have already reached a deal.

Boehner responded simply by blowing kisses at the reporter, Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for "The Takeaway."

"When we make decisions, I'll let you know," the speaker added.

Obama announced plans in November to broaden policies that allow certain undocumented immigrants with long-standing ties to the U.S. to temporarily stay in the country and work. One such policy, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, or DAPA, would apply to parents of U.S. citizens and of legal permanent residents. Another one of the president's executive actions would expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Last month, the House passed a DHS funding bill with language to halt Obama's actions, but also to end DACA entirely and prevent the president from carrying out some of his other immigration priorities.

A judge temporarily halted DAPA and the expanded DACA last week -- a decision the Obama administration is seeking to reverse. Some Republicans have said it is now less important to block the policies as part of the DHS funding legislation.

However, it's not clear that there are enough Republicans in the House who agree with that assessment. Boehner said Thursday that despite the ruling, there's still "a role for Congress to play" and that the House intends to be involved.

It would be possible, but politically risky, for Boehner to pass a clean funding bill with support from Democrats against the will of most of his conference. Asked whether he feels his speakership is being challenged, though, Boehner said, "No, heavens' sakes no. Not at all."

Obama reiterated on Wednesday that he would veto any bill that blocked his immigration programs.

UPDATE: 1:10 p.m. -- White House press secretary Josh Earnest said later Thursday that Obama has no plans at this time to intervene directly in the DHS funding fight in Congress because it appears to be a "party dispute" within the GOP.

"Right now it seems to be a disagreement principally between the Republican leader of the House and the Republican leader of the United States Senate," he said at a press briefing. "Again, Republicans made an aggressive case over the course of last year over why the American people should entrust the United States Congress to Republican leadership. Here we are, seven or eight weeks into their tenure, and they're on the precipice of falling down on the job."

Earnest said Obama "remains engaged [and] ready to take phone calls as necessary."

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: This story previously misstated Todd Zwillich's title. He is "The Takeaway's" Washington correspondent, not its host.

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