WASHINGTON -- Republicans in the Senate likely don't have the votes to pass a bill blocking President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, but House conservatives said Wednesday that was no reason to cave on the subject during a fight over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
Their message to Senate Republicans: Step up, stop the excuses and do whatever you can to end Obama's policies protecting some undocumented immigrants from deportation.
"I'm going to speak to our conservative counterparts on the Senate side, who have said time and time again, 'You in the House need to do this, you in the House need to do that,'" Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said at a "Conversations with Conservatives" event, a monthly gathering of reporters and Republican House members. "Well, you know what? Now it's in the Senate and they have an opportunity to shine and to do their job, and I hope they do."
The House voted last week to renew funding for DHS, but included measures in the bill targeting Obama's immigration policies, which conservatives say are unconstitutional. Those include the 2012 policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. years ago as children to stay, and a new program that will grant similar benefits to the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. DHS is set to run out of funding at the end of February.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters last week that the upper chamber will vote on the House-passed DHS funding bill. But Republicans would need help from Democrats to reach the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation -- something they're unlikely to get. Even if the bill were to make it to Obama's desk, he has promised to veto it, and neither chamber of Congress appears to have enough votes to override a veto.
Politico reported earlier Wednesday that GOP leaders are looking for a "Plan B" to address Obama's executive actions on immigration outside of the DHS funding process. That could involve another short-term DHS funding bill to buy time on the issue, a border security bill or a lawsuit against Obama for his executive actions.
But House members at Wednesday's event said senators needed to stand up for ending the executive actions now. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said that some Republicans appeared to be making excuses.
"Last year, the message was 'We cannot get our way because we don't have a Senate [majority].' Now this year, it's 'We cannot get our way because we only have 54 votes,'" he said. "Well, if that's going to be the attitude from the Senate, then we're not going to win any battles. We might as well just tell [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid that he can continue to lead the Senate because we were not able to get 60 votes in the Senate. That's not leadership."
Labrador specifically called out McConnell, saying he should keep campaign promises to stand up to the president, and conservative Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), saying they should do something to block the executive actions and hinting at a filibuster. Should their actions lead to a DHS shutdown, blame would lie with Obama for refusing to end his executive actions, Labrador said.
As they wait to see what Senate Republicans will do about DHS funding, the House GOP is moving forward with a border security bill. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced legislation last week, and his counterpart in the Senate, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), introduced a companion bill on Wednesday with Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
The House Homeland Security Committee held a markup of McCaul's bill on Wednesday afternoon, and it will reportedly go up for a vote on the House floor next week.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is urging House Republicans to oppose McCaul's bill, and while most members who attended the "Conversations with Conservatives" event didn't rule out supporting it, some voiced reservations.
McCaul spoke to conservative members on Wednesday afternoon at a Republican Study Committee meeting, and told reporters afterward he thought most members who opposed it, including Sessions, seemed to think his bill should include immigration measures that are outside his committee's jurisdiction. He said he hoped Sessions and others would get on board once he explained this.
Labrador told reporters after the meeting he thinks there will be "a pretty unified vote" in favor of the bill. He said he needs to review it further before making a decision.
"We have the Senate now, we have an opportunity to move on border security," McCaul said. "I want to get that done."