In a dramatic, down-to-the-wire vote to avert a Department of Homeland Security shutdown, House leaders from both parties agreed late Friday night to pass a seven-day stopgap measure to keep the vital agency running.
With just over two hours left until the midnight deadline on the agency’s funding, House Democrats agreed to sign onto the short-term measure in a final 357-60 vote that will only kick the can down the road another week.
The Senate earlier in the evening swiftly approved a seven-day measure by voice vote before adjourning for the weekend, leaving only President Obama’s signature to keep the lights at the DHS on.
Weeks of impasse and last-minute scrambling in Congress exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party in the fight against Obama's executive actions, which would provide deportation relief to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. Leading up to this week, efforts to tie the executive actions to a DHS funding bill failed in the Republican-controlled Congress, forcing leaders to shift strategies as the deadline to a potential shutdown approached.
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It was an action-packed finish after a flurry of legislative maneuvers Friday. Earlier in the evening, the House Republican leadership suffered an embarrassing defeat when a short-term funding measure to keep DHS running for an additional three weeks failed to garner enough GOP support. Meanwhile in the Senate, lawmakers Friday morning approved a "clean" bill that stripped all anti-executive action language from the measure while keeping DHS funded through September.
The final measure managed to clear the House only after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed to support the one-week extensions, promising that it would lead to a long-term solution. Earlier in the day, Democrats aggressively whipped against the House bill, arguing in favor of the clean funding bill that passed in the Senate.
"We are asking you once again to help advance passage of the Senate passed, long-term funding of DHS by voting in favor of a 7-day patch that will be on suspension in the House tonight," Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats. "Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week," she added.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, fired back Friday night saying that there was no "deal" with Pelosi to back a clean, long-term bill. "There was no such promise made," Steel said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from northern Virginia where a number of local DHS workers live, said he was concerned there were not enough assurances that House leaders would agree to bring up a clean bill within a week's time. "I’d like some verification of this rumor or perceived assurance that we will have an opportunity to vote on a clean DHS appropriations bill next week," Connolly said, "I don’t see how there is a clear, unfettered path to a clean DHS appropriations bill. But I’ll trust my leadership to work it out."
The passage now tees up yet another cliff for Congress, and the stakes remain high for vital homeland security operations. In a 46-page document outlining the agency's contingency plan in case Congress blows past the midnight deadline, DHS officials determined that roughly 87% of employees would be required to show up for their jobs, but would not be paid -- including Coast Guard, border patrol agents and Transportation Security Administration airport screening officials. Another 30,000 workers would be sent home without pay.
In a statement released Friday evening, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama met with members of his cabinet and senior staff in the Oval Office to discuss a possible DHS shutdown. Obama then called the Democratic leadership in Congress -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- to press that the agency not be shuttered.
This all comes after a weeks-long showdown in Congress over Republican efforts to gut Obama's executive actions on immigration through legislation funding the DHS. Congressional Democrats accuse their Republican counterparts of playing with fire in jeopardizing homeland security interests, while far-right elements of the GOP have refused to back down on unraveling what they call Obama's "executive overreach."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed this week to strip provisions that unravel the immigration actions from the DHS funding bill and bring them up in a separate vote. Senate Democrats, however, successfully blocked those immigration riders on Friday in a 57-42 vote.
The divisions between the sharply conservative and more moderate ends of the GOP put Boehner's leadership sqaurely in the spotlight. The three-week band-aid was designed to buy the speaker additional time to reconcile with Senate Republicans while also keeping a close eye on the legal challenges to Obama's executive actions on immigration. But without much Democratic support, Boehner was forced to rely heavily on his own conference to unite in pushing the measure forward. Ultimately, 52 Republicans voted against the three-week stop-gap, potentially putting Boehner's speakership in jeopardy.
However Rep. John Fleming, a Lousiana Republican, swatted down rumors of a Boehner coup, saying "there is no discussion or talk among conservatives at least" of trying to get rid of him.
House Republicans also adopted a motion to go to conference to work on the bill passed through the Senate earlier Friday morning. No Democrat voted in favor of the motion, and Reid made clear that Democrats in the upper chamber was not open to negotiating the long-term solution. "We will not go to conference on some jury-rigged situation they send back," Reid said from the Senate floor. "The Senate is proving there is broad bipartisan support for a good bill that will fund the government and keep the government running."