Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joined a small but growing group of Republicans who say it's time for Congress to vote on Department of Homeland Security funding without including controversial immigration measures that could risk a shutdown.
“We have to fund Homeland Security," he told reporters Wednesday in Las Vegas, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We can't let Homeland Security shut down."
DHS is set to run out of funding on Feb. 27 if Congress doesn't act, but the two parties are at a standstill. The House passed a bill last month to fund the department, but with dead-on-arrival amendments that would gut the president's key immigration policies, including recent executive actions they say are unconstitutional. President Barack Obama has said he would veto that bill if it got to his desk, and Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked attempts in the upper chamber to move forward with the legislation.
Some Republicans have said it's time to fund DHS and then deal with Obama's executive actions separately to avoid a shutdown of the department, and it appears Rubio has joined that camp. According to the Review-Journal, Rubio noted to reporters that the Senate doesn't have the votes to pass the House's DHS funding bill and that Obama had promised to veto it. Rubio's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) voted with Democrats multiple times against moving forward with the House's bill, and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said last week it was a bad strategy "to attempt to use a spending bill in order to try to poke a finger in the president's eye."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters last week that he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should allow a vote on a DHS bill without immigration measures.
"I generally agree with the Democratic position here," Kirk said. “I think we should have never fought this battle on DHS funding."
McConnell acknowledged last week that the House-passed DHS funding bill is "stuck" in the Senate, and said "the next move obviously is up to the House."
House Republicans, though, have indicated no interest in offering up a DHS funding bill that doesn't block Obama's executive actions on immigration.
"The House has acted. We've done our job," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on "Fox News Sunday" last weekend. "Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It's up to Senate Democrats to get their act together."
Obama's November executive actions on immigration were put on hold this week after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction while he considers a case over their constitutionality.
UPDATE: Alex Conant, an adviser to Rubio, emailed in a statement to push back on the idea that the senator is urging Republicans to acquiesce in the DHS funding fight:
Senator Rubio does not support shutting down DHS. But he does support stopping the new executive order on immigration and is willing to support any approach we could get passed to stop it. But the President had made clear he will veto any effort to stop his unconstitutional order. And Senate Democrats have made clear they will not even end there filibuster on the DHS funding bill. The result will be a DHS shutdown which would be harmful to our national security. The answer is not for Republicans to surrender and pass a clean funding bill. The answer is for the President and Senate Democrats to abandon the executive order and cooperate in passing a series of immigration bills beginning with real border security.
It didn't take long for Rubio's comments to generate criticism among conservatives. So take this statement for what it is: clarification but also clean up. The senator's position appears to be that Republicans must recognize that Obama won't budge on DHS funding but find a way to work around it with just days to spare.
"The goal here isn't to force a veto," said Conant in a follow-up email. "It's to pass a bill that funds DHS without implementing executive amnesty. He wants to get on the bill; add additional funding for enforcement and other measures; and a repeal of the executive order."