Congress Extends DHS Funding for One Week; Outcome of Battle Uncertain
February 27, 2015
After a dramatic day, both the House and Senate passed legislation (called a continuing resolution or “CR”) that extends funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for one week. However, even with the extension of funding, the fate of the Homeland Security Spending bill, H.R. 240, remains far from clear.
The atmosphere on Capitol Hill Friday was tense as the House and Senate appeared at odds on how to address Obama’s executive amnesty and funding DHS. In January, the House passed an appropriations bill (H.R. 240) that fully funds the department but defunds the executive amnesty. (FAIR Legislative Update, Jan. 20, 2015) That legislation stalled in the Senate when Democrats refused to even debate the bill, arguing that the bill should be stripped of any matters relating to the President’s executive amnesty. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attempted four times to begin debate on the bill (a vote which requires 60 yeas), only to see Democrats – including those who say they oppose the President’s actions – vote against debating it.
Then, two days ago, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) struck a deal. Reid agreed to throw Democratic support behind a motion to begin debate on H.R. 240, and in return McConnell agreed to offer one and only one amendment to strip the defunding language from the bill. McConnell also promised to bring up a separate, stand-alone bill authored by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) that defunds the Administration’s November 2014 memos, but not the 2012 DACA program or the 2011 Morton Memos, as the House bill did. (See FAIR’s summary of S.534) Immediately after the leaders struck the deal, McConnell went to the Senate floor and offered the motion to proceed to debate. There was little debate and the motion PASSED by a vote of 98-2.
On Friday morning, the Senate began the rest of the process. Majority Leader McConnell brought up the H.R. 240 for debate. Then, pursuant his deal with Reid, he offered a single amendment to strip the defunding language from the bill. (Senate Amendment 258) Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) stood up and offered a motion to table the McConnell amendment, giving an impassioned speech the illegality of President Obama’s actions. (See C-Span.org, at 58:45) He argued that the Constitution grants Congress the authority over immigration, yet the President deliberately circumvented Congress by taking executive action to change our immigration laws. It is particularly objectionable, he argued, that the President took this executive action to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens after repeatedly saying he does not have the authority to do so. He further argued that when Congress wants to rein in an executive who has exceeded his authority, it is well-established that it can, and should use the power of the purse to defund executive actions it does not like. He urged his fellow Senators to protect Congressional authority over immigration, and indeed to protect the institution. Unfortunately, many Senators would not listen. Lee’s motion to table failed 34-65.
Then, the Senate moved forward with H.R. 240. The Senate passed the McConnell amendment 66-33, with significant Republican support. The Senate then voted in favor of final passage, 68-31. The Senate then immediately sent H.R. 240, stripped of all language that defunds the executive amnesty, to the House.
After passing the DHS appropriations bill, per his agreement with Senator Reid, Senator McConnell attempted to bring up the separate Collins bill which (partially) defunds President Obama’s executive amnesty. (S.534) However, McConnell did not get very far. Under Senate rules, before actually debating the substance of the bill or offering amendments, McConnell was first required to offer a motion to proceed with debate. Senate Democrats blocked that motion by a vote of 57-42, with 60 votes needed to advance. Thus, the Senate did not debate the Collins bill and did nothing to stop the President’s executive amnesty.
After the Senate acted, the House moved forward, but on an uncertain course. Some Republicans in the House argued to extend funding for Homeland Security for three weeks (the CR) in an attempt to go to conference committee with the Senate. But some Republicans argued that they did not want to vote for any legislation that funded President Obama’s executive amnesty. Other Republicans wanted to fund Homeland Security and not defund the executive amnesty, essentially letting it move forward.
The House first brought up and passed a motion to go to conference committee on H.R. 240 with the Senate. That motion passed by a vote of 228-191, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans opposing. Early evening, the House brought up a continuing resolution (CR) to extend funding for DHS for three weeks. The three-week extension was intended to give the House and Senate enough time to hold a conference committee. However, that legislation failed by a vote of 203-224, with all Democrats and a sizable number of Republicans in opposition.
The failure of the three-week funding extension seemed to surprise House GOP leadership, which immediately recessed to regroup with fellow Republicans. Several hours passed as members met and negotiated.
After 8 p.m., it seemed the House and Senate had reached a temporary solution. The Senate took up and unanimously passed a seven-day extension of funding for DHS. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then announced that the next vote would be a vote to appoint conferees pursuant to the House request for a conference committee. He scheduled that vote for Monday at 5:30pm. Then the Senate adjourned.
The adjournment of the Senate left the House with the sole responsibility of deciding the fate of DHS funding before it was set to expire at midnight. The House returned from recess at about 9:30pm and promptly took up and passed the Senate resolution to extend funding for the DHS for one week.
It is unclear how the House or Senate will Move forward over the next seven days. Negotiations will likely continue this weekend ahead of Monday’s vote in the Senate. Stay tuned to FAIR for more updates as events unfold…