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Senate Democrats block GOP efforts to gut immigration actions

Democrats blocked a bill designed to fund the Department of Homeland Security on the condition of dismantling President Obama's actions on immigration.
Image: Senate GOP And Democrats Hold Weekly Policy Luncheons
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (C) and Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) (2nd R) arrive for a news conference after the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked House Republican efforts to undo President Obama's immigration actions. 

Republicans have been pushing a bill designed to fund the Department of Homeland Security on the condition of dismantling Obama's executive actions on immigration, both past and present.

As expected, the legislation was dead on arrival in the Senate. Republicans hold a majority in the upper chamber, yet the legislation needed to garner at least 60 votes to pass. Ultimately, Democrats filibustered the measure in a 51-48 vote.

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Congressional Republicans have used the critical agency funding as a political tool to take aim at Obama's unilateral measures on immigration, which were unveiled in November and build on a 2012 program that offers deferred deportation action to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Together, the executive measures would extend deportation relief and work permits to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the U.S.

The bill originally passed the House last month to keep the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) running through September, but with several caveats. A set of toxic amendments were tacked onto the bill to include language that blocked resources or fees from being allocated to the latest executive measures. And it unraveled the existing actions by not allowing undocumented immigrants to renew their applications for deportation relief. The largely symbolic move had virtually no chance of garnering Democratic support to pass the Senate, while the White House made clear that the president would not sign legislation to gut his own executive measures.

It is unclear what steps congressional Republicans will take next -- but the clock is ticking. The strategy raises the stakes on funding for DHS, which is set to run dry by Feb. 27.

Democratic leaders said in a press conference following the vote Tuesday that they would support a clean bill to fund DHS operations on the condition that Republicans drop the toxic amendments that target the immigration actions.

"Now is long past the time to pass clean a DHS bill in the interest of the American people and not to continue their anti-immigrant attitudes which are contrary to what our country is about," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a statement ahead of the vote, slamming the House GOP bill as "unworkable." In a press conference with Senate Democrats Tuesday morning, Johnson stressed that DHS operations extend beyond immigration enforcement, and that without funding, everything from domestic security interests to grants that impact local governments across the country would be negatively impacted.

"There are real-life consequences to public safety, to homeland security, to our ability to respond to homeland security challenges" without new resources, Johnson said during a press conference with Senate Democrats Tuesday.

RELATED: Border agents affected by immigration action

Obama on Monday chided congressional Republicans for potentially jeopardizing national security interests that could have an immediate impact on the 40,000 border patrol and customs agents, 50,000 Transportation Security Administration airport screeners and 40,000 Coast Guard officers.

“The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that,” Obama said. “Until they pass a funding bill, it is the end of a paycheck for tens of thousands of frontline workers who will continue to get — to have to work without getting paid.”

Conservatives argue that the president's unilateral actions extend beyond the scope of his executive authority, an issue the White House firmly attests. Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pressed for Democrats to vote in favor of the funding bill -- poison amendments and all -- arguing they should be wary of the president's actions.

"At its core, this debate is about whether Democrats think presidents, of either party, should have the power to simply do what they want," McConnell said. "And while this is about more than just President Obama, it's also true that President Obama has repeatedly reached beyond his authority."

Republicans, however, were not uniform in the strategy to bring down the executive actions, a signal that moderates in the party, particularly those from districts with large Latino populations, were uneasy with gutting the benefits. In the House vote last month, 26 Republicans broke from their party on an amendment to rollback deferred action to nearly 600,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers. On Tuesday, McConnell and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada were the only Republicans to vote against the measure, though McConnell did so for procedural reasons.

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It is unclear whether House Speaker John Boehner will bring a clean DHS bill up for a vote ahead of the Feb. 27 deadline. In a press conference with House Republican leadership ahead of the Senate vote Tuesday, Boehner said the goal of the move was not to let the agency run out of money.

"I don't think anyone wants to shut down the Department of Homeland Security," Boehner said, "but what we want to do is block the president's executive actions that were beyond the law and beyond his ability to make."