Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson lashed out at Congress on Wednesday, calling the legislative debate around funding his department “absurd.”
“In these challenging times, when we’re concerned about terrorist organizations such as ISIL, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and so forth — and in the midst of harsh weather, it is even absurd to be having this conversation,” said Johnson. “It is even absurd that I have to spend a very, very large part of my work week simply defending paying our people to work.”
DHS funding expires at midnight on Friday and Congress so far has been unable to pass a funding bill. Republicans want to include measures that would unravel the president’s executive actions on immigration, but Democrats won’t vote for it.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’d bring up a clean bill to fund the crucial government agency, but the question remains: Will Democrats — or Congressional Republicans for that matter — go for it?
“I’m optimistic that Congress will come together and fund our department,” Johnson said, unconvincingly, sounding more exhausted that expectant.
He listed the many things the department does, including screening 1.8 million airline passengers daily and securing the borders — to name two crucial functions.
“Border security is not free, you gotta pay for it,” Johnson said.
He also pointed out how extraordinary it is to expect employees to go to work without the guarantee of pay, as more than 75% of DHS employees — deemed essential — would be forced to do if the department is not funded.
“Just imagine that for a minute,” he said. “It’s an unfair position [for] the working men and women in our department who have to make ends meet.”
The new bill sans immigration provisions will have to be passed by House Republicans, who have been adamant about moving forward with the version they originally passed.
“The House has done its job to fund the DHS and to stop the president’s overreach on immigration,” House Speaker John Boehner insisted on Wednesday, reiterating a position he’s taken in recent weeks. “We are waiting for the Senate to do their jobs. Senate Democrats have stood in the way for three weeks.” What action the House will take on the new bill is unclear, though Boehner may risk alienating the more conservative portion of his party if he is to take McConnell’s deal.