Rather than risk shutting down critical operations at the Department of Homeland Security, House Republicans threw in the towel Tuesday afternoon and passed a clean bill to keep the agency running – no strings attached.
The final 257-167 vote marked an end to congressional Republican efforts to use DHS funding as leverage against President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The bill now heads to Obama’s desk, and he is expected to sign the measure.
The passage comes after a dizzying few days of legislative action as Congress scrambled to avert a looming DHS shutdown. For nearly two months, congressional Republicans have sought to pull at the purse strings of Obama’s executive actions and unravel the programs that would provide deportation protections to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants. Heading into this week, prospects of Congress passing a long-term funding bill before the new March 6 deadline seemed possible, yet unclear, considering the political wrangling seen in the House floor over the issue just days earlier.
In total, 74 House Republicans voted in favor of the clean bill, joining 182 Democrats who did the same. For some, the passage of the “clean” DHS legislation seemed almost inevitable. But for others – namely members of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House – it was a disappointing defeat.
Following the vote, Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon said in a statement that he was disappointed in the outcome.
“Today’s bill has weakened our Constitution,” Salmon said. “This isn’t about party. This isn’t about policy. It isn’t about politics. My opposition to this bill is based primarily on the fundamental separation of powers which the president has violated.”
With his back up against a wall and funding for the critical government agency set to run dry by Friday at midnight, House Speaker John Boehner alerted the House GOP conference during a closed door session Tuesday that the lower chamber would vote on the clean bill. Boehner’s announcement was met with dead silence from the room, NBC News reported.
“I am as outraged and frustrated as you at the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president,” Boehner told his caucus, according to NBC News. “I believe this decision – considering where we are – is the right one for this team, and the right one for this country.”
The move came after an embarrassing defeat for Republican leaders last week when a short-term stopgap – designed to buy the conference more time to strategize – failed to gain enough GOP support. House Republicans enjoy the largest majority seen in the chamber since the Great Depression, but still, leaders needed to enlist help from Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in order to avert a DHS shutdown, originally scheduled to kick in at midnight on Feb. 27. Congress was ultimately able to kick the can down the road and pass a seven-day extension to the funding deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already opted to cut his losses and allow the upper chamber to vote on the “clean” bill that dropped all amendments targeting the executive actions. The legislation passed with bipartisan support last Friday. And this week, Senate Democrats successfully blocked House GOP efforts to go to conference and hash out differences between the two chambers, leaving few options for Boehner to take ahead of the new March 6 deadline.
Boehner’s announcement was met with anger and frustration from conservatives who saw the speaker as caving under pressure.
“This is the signal of capitulation,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the Associated Press. “The mood of this thing is such that to bring it back from the abyss is very difficult.”