Congress narrowly averted a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (which is responsible for securing the country against terror threats and for border control – The department includes Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency) late Friday amid a proxy battle over President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms.
The vote came just hours before the department faced a partial shutdown. Both the House and Senate passed a seven-day extension of funding for the agency, with the House acting just two hours before funding was set to expire at midnight. The House vote was 357-60. The Senate passed the measure by voice vote.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rallied Democrats to support the one-week extension before funding expired. She said that voting for the seven-day measure would put Democrats on a path toward possible passage next week of a $40 billion spending bill that would fund the agency through the end of September.
The extension was put forward by the Senate as an emergency measure after Republican House Speaker John Boehner, under pressure from his party’s right wing, refused to allow a vote on a comprehensive funding bill cleared by the Senate earlier on Friday.
“This has been a day of confusion both here in the House and for the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., as she urged lawmakers to pass the one-week funding bill.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., also called for passage of the bill, saying that lawmakers would be abdicating their responsibility to the American people if they let DHS shut down.
President Obama called Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday night to “ensure that the Department of Homeland Security does not shut down,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
Conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives were angry that the measure did not include amendments sought by fellow House Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s immigration executive orders protecting millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.
Boehner instead proposed a three-week DHS spending bill that would have allowed the DHS to function normally and bought time for Republicans to press against Obama’s immigration reforms.
However, Republicans, who have a large majority in both houses after midterm elections in November, joined with Democrats in voting down that bill 224-203 in the House of Representatives, with conservatives wanting Boehner and others to stick by the amendments to the immigration plan.
House Democrats said the chamber should instead support the Senate-passed bill to fund DHS through the end of the fiscal year. But a block of conservative Republicans wanted the House to hold firm and continue to demand that the Senate pass legislation the House had already passed that would derail Obama’s immigration programs.
Earnest said Congress’ struggle to find a final resolution to the funding fight “exposes the danger of playing politics with our homeland security.”
At the heart of the funding fight was a battle over immigration.
House Republicans wanted to use the DHS funding bill as leverage to stop Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Obama issued those orders in November to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the USA.