Partial shutdown? House rejects Homeland Security funding
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican-controlled House unexpectedly rejected short-term funding for the Department of Homeland Security on Friday, increasing the prospect of a partial shutdown at midnight of an agency with major anti-terrorism responsibilities.
The vote was 224-203 against the measure, as 52 Republicans defected on the leadership-backed legislation.
A combination of conservative, tea party-backed Republicans on one side of the political aisle and Democrats on the other opposed the bill. The first group was upset because the legislation had been stripped of changes to President Barack Obama's immigration policy, and the second because it lacked full-year funding for the sprawling department.
With less than seven few hours remaining before the midnight deadline, it was unclear what Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders would next propose.
Democrats led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California urged them in advance to allow a vote on a bill to keep the department in funds through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year - a step the GOP high command had previously refused to take.
"You have made a mess," Pelosi said to Republicans as debate neared an end on the measure.
That wasn't how tea party-backed rebels saw it.
"It does not make any difference whether the funding is for three weeks, three months or a full fiscal year. If it's illegal, it's illegal," said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Other conservatives disagreed with that sort of analysis in large numbers - and said so.
"It's the best solution that we have available to us right now," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "Nobody wants to shut down the Department of Homeland Security."
Across the Capitol, the Senate waited to add its assent after playing out a series of acts in the Republicans' effort to use the measure to wring concessions on immigration from the White House.
A largely symbolic attempt to advance legislation that would repeal Obama's immigration directive of last fall failed on a vote of 57-42, three short of the 60 required.
That separate proposal was "commonsense legislation that would protect our democracy from the egregious example of executive overreach we saw in November," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who successfully led his rank and file in recent days to a decision to pass Homeland Security legislation without immigration-related provisions.
Much of the Department of Homeland Security was to remain open, even if funding expired at midnight. Airport security checkpoints would remain staffed, immigration agents would be on the job, air marshals would do their work and Coast Guard patrols would sail on. Of the department's 230,000 employees, an estimated 200,000 would remain at work, either because they are deemed essential, or because their pay comes from fees that are unaffected by congressional spending disputes.
And ironically, a federal court order has blocked implementation of Obama's immigration policies that most Republicans seek, at least temporarily.
Taken together, the day's events at the Capitol underscored the difficulty Republicans have had so far this year in translating last fall's election gains into legislative accomplishment - a step its own leaders say is necessary to establish the party's credentials as a responsible, governing party.
Republicans gained control of the Senate in last November's balloting, and emerged with their largest House majority in more than 70 years.
Further demonstrating GOP woes, House GOP leaders abruptly called off a vote on a major education bill that had attracted significant opposition from conservatives as well as Democrats and the White House.
Aides attributed that decision to the need to work separately on rounding up enough votes to pass the measure that would prevent a partial shutdown at Homeland Security.
The day's developments occurred against a midnight deadline for funding the department, an agency with significant responsibilities in the nation's fight against terrorism.
An early, 240-183 test vote in the House indicated ample support for the spending bill, but a short while later the House was gaveled into recess while the search went on for support to pass the legislation itself.
"The House must pass this bill in short order to keep the lights on at the Department of Homeland Security in the near term," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "Hopefully, this will buy us this additional time that we clearly need."
Democrats argued against the measure, saying their preference was a longer-term bill to provide funding that carries the department trough the Dept. 30 end of the budget year without attempting to alter immigration policy. It cleared the Senate Friday on a vote of 68-31.
"Give us a vote, Mr. Speaker. Give us a vote. Instead, drip, drip, drip," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.
Some House Republicans agreed, noting that Senate Democrats had demonstrated their ability to block any challenges to Obama's immigration policies, and that the president had vowed to veto them in any event.
"The only question is when - tomorrow or in three weeks," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "Some folks just have a harder time facing political reality than others."
Obama's first immigration directive, in 2012, lifted the threat of deportation from many immigrants brought to the country illegally as youngsters. Another order last fall applied to millions more who are in the United States unlawfully.
Associated Press writers Charles Babington, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.