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Republicans wave white flag to avert DHS shutdown

A Department of Homeland Security funding bill is on the table — but lawmakers are not out of the woods yet.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

With just more than three days left until funding for the Department of Homeland Security is slated to run out, the Senate’s top Republican leader said he is willing to give up on his party’s efforts to sink President Obama’s immigration actions in order to avoid an agency shutdown.

The question is: Will Democrats — or congressional Republicans for that matter — be willing to take the deal?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waved the white flag on Tuesday, and said he is willing to bring up a clean bill to fund the crucial government agency, which is currently on track to shut down by Feb. 27. The top Republican has already failed four times at pushing through a House GOP bill to fund the DHS on the condition of unraveling the president’s sweeping executive actions on immigration. Democrats have called on McConnell to drop the toxic measures tacked onto the funding bill and bring legislation that would survive a White House veto. And so on Tuesday, McConnell said he was open to introducing the the "Immigration Rule of Law Act” separately, which would gut the unilateral actions on its own without jeopardizing the DHS.

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"I've indicated to the Democratic leader that I'd be happy to have his cooperation to advance the consideration of a clean DHS bill, which would carry us through till Sept. 30," McConnell said.

Still, it’s unclear whether Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid would sign onto McConnell’s plan. The Nevada Democrat says he will wait for House Majority Leader John Boehner to make the first move and see if he can pass the clean bill through the Republican-led House.

A spokesman for Boehner did not add much clarity to what actions the top House Republican plans to take. It’s an uphill battle for the speaker in convincing the more conservative wing of his party to take up McConnell’s deal. Party leaders are expected to discuss the issue at a closed-door meeting Wednesday.

“The speaker has been clear: The House has acted, and now Senate Democrats need to stop hiding,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday. “Will they continue to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security or not?”

Republicans nationwide met news of Obama's immigration actions with outrage last November, vowing to fight "tooth and nail" to bring down the measures. House Republicans — who believed Obama to be overstepping his authority in providing deportation relief to more than 5 million undocumented immigrants — sought to gut the measures through much-needed funding for DHS. But amid recent terror attacks abroad and growing concerns over the terrorist group ISIS, some top Republicans have feared that jeopardizing funding to homeland security operations would be against U.S. interests.

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Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have previously expressed support behind pushing a clean DHS funding bill in order to keep the vital agency running.

Congressional leaders also have a third option, which would entail funding a short-term DHS funding bill that would keep the agency afloat while lawmakers continued their immigration debate. Doing so, however, would simply set up yet another cliff and Congress would continue to inch closer to it.