With just hours to go before a midnight deadline, Congress passed a one-week extension to fund the Department of Homeland Security and prevent sending 30,000 government employees home on furlough.
The vote ended a tumultuous day in the House as Republican Speaker John Boehner and his aides lost control of their right flank, failing to deliver a three-week funding measure for the department and relying instead on Democrats to pass the one-week measure to avoid a DHS shutdown.
Boehner had hoped the three-week extension would buy his conference time to figure out how to protest immigration measures put forward by President Obama last year, without shutting down DHS. But his fellow Republicans turned on the bill and it failed by a handful of votes late in the afternoon.
The Senate, led by newly elected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then calmly passed a one-week extension of funding for the department and sent that bill back across the Capitol to the House. After House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke with Obama, House Democrats opted to vote with Boehner and the Republican leadership rather than allow funding for the department to fail.
The one-week extension in funding for DHS meant that McConnell could technically uphold his promise that there would be no government shutdowns under his leadership. But House conservatives effectively ended McConnell’s other major promise as leader: that the party would no longer be “scary.”
On the Senate side of the Capitol, the House disarray brought scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike. “Hopefully we’re gonna end the attaching of bullshit to essential items of the government,” Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s up for reelection in 2016, told TPM. “In the long-run, if you are blessed with the majority, you’re blessed with the power to govern. If you’re gonna govern, you have to act responsibly.”
The DHS fight originated in November, when Obama announced he would unilaterally, temporarily defer deportations for up to five million immigrants who came to the country illegally. While Republicans in Congress were furious at what they called the “unconstitutional” action, they were faced with few good options to effectively negate Obama’s executive actions.
Their best option emerged last week, when a federal judge in Texas ordered Obama to stop his action through an injunction. Still, some of the top legal experts in the country say the president’s actions are lawful. Some Republicans applauded the three-week plan put forward by Boehner Thursday night, saying that it gave time to highlight the ruling.
“America should have an opportunity to understand why we object to the president’s action [and] why a federal judge found that the president didn’t have the authority,” said California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa. “So the Speaker has offered a very reasoned way to create space in which to have that debate with the Senate.”
Other Republicans believe that the party should have just passed what the Democrats wanted, a so-called “clean” bill that would not have added immigration riders. “We’ve got him into an arena that is honestly better than the Capitol,” says Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole. “We can’t achieve a complete victory in Congress. We don’t have the Senate. The President does have a veto. But in the courts we actually could achieve it. … I actually would argue this is actually a little bit of a sideshow,” he added. “I think the decisive arena is the court.”
The backlash among conservatives caught Boehner and his aides by surprise. Republican Rep. Walter Jones reached into his pocket for a copy of the Constitution when asked Thursday night why he wouldn’t support the plan. “How can I support money going to a president who violated the Constitution,” he said. “We cave in all the time up here,” he added, referring to previous spending fights. In a closed-door meeting, Jones noted “strong feelings” on both sides of the conference. On one side he said were “those of us who feel so passionately about the Constitution.” On the other, he said, were “those from other parts of the United States that are more concerned about the terrorist attacks.”
The passage of the one-week bill represented the second time since December that Congress has punted on DHS funding and left Republicans with the question of how they can viably protest the president’s immigration actions without shutting down the agency.
That’s a challenge Boehner will now face in just one week — two weeks earlier than he had hoped.