Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to his office from the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 8, 2015.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

McConnell looks for a way out of DHS mess

In early January, shortly after the terrorist violence in Paris, much of the political world wondered aloud whether Republicans would follow through on their threats to shut down parts of the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent an unmistakable signal: the public need not worry.
Referencing DHS, the Republican leader told reporters, “[A]t the end of the day we’re going to fund the department, obviously.”
That was seven weeks ago, and Republican intentions are far less “obvious” now. On the contrary, GOP lawmakers appear to have fallen into a trap they set for themselves, and are at odds with one another about how to climb out before Friday’s deadline.
To his credit, McConnell doesn’t want his party to shoot the hostage it took without forethought, and as of late yesterday, the Kentucky lawmaker signaled support for a new strategy.
The Kentucky Republican offered a standalone bill focused on the 2014 immigration actions alone after Democrats for the fourth time filibustered the House-passed DHS bill, this time on a 47-46 vote, 13 shy of the 60 needed to advance.
“It isn’t tied to DHS funding. It removes their excuse,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor…. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed McConnell’s latest maneuvering.
The basic outline of McConnell’s remedy is pretty straightforward. Under the current Republican strategy, funding for Homeland Security is tied to a GOP plan to scrap President Obama’s immigration policy. In effect, the party’s ransom note reads, “Undo the White House’s protections for immigrants or the Department of Homeland Security gets it.”
McConnell’s new tack intends to decouple the demands – Congress would fund Homeland Security at the agreed upon levels, and then lawmakers would also vote on separate legislation going after the president’s executive actions on immigration.
So, in this ridiculous game of chicken, McConnell blinked first? Yep, that’s pretty much what happened last night.
The Senate Majority Leader’s plan – at this point, the only real alternative to a partial shutdown this week – would clearly resolve the impasse, but it would do so by giving Democrats the clean bill they’ve sought all along.
Why would Republicans go along? For one thing, they wouldn’t be held responsible for shutting down the Department of Homeland Security in a dumb stunt. For another – and this is McConnell’s selling point to his party – a separate bill targeting the president’s  policy would get Democrats on record when it comes to Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
The process would unfold like this:
Step One: fund the Department of Homeland Security.
Step Two: the House takes up stand-alone legislation to undo the president’s policy.
Step Three: the Senate takes up stand-alone legislation to undo the president’s policy.
To be sure, steps two and three would be theater, staged to make Republicans feel better about themselves. The stand-alone bill probably couldn’t overcome a Democratic filibuster, and even if it did advance, it’d face an inevitable White House veto.
But according to McConnell and proponents of this solution, Republicans would be able to say at that point, “A ha! We now have proof that Democrats support a popular Obama policy that helps millions of families, helps the economy, and helps solidify political support between Democrats and the fastest-growing constituency in the United States! That’ll show ‘em!”
As today progresses, we’ll get a better sense of whether GOP lawmakers consider McConnell’s plan acceptable – I have a hunch the right will not be pleased – but with very little time remaining, it’s quite likely that the options have dwindled to McConnell’s solution or a Friday shutdown.