Senate Democrats took a beating in the 2014 election, but they’ve returned to Washington, D.C. ready to punch back.
Led by the bruised and battered leader Harry Reid, Democrats united to block a procedural debate on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while defunding President Obama’s executive order on immigration. By a vote of 51-48 with one Republican joining the Democrats, the bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to allow Senate consideration and set up yet another standoff over immigration reform on Capitol Hill.
Reid, who has a black bruise covering much of his face and a patch over his eye, proclaimed before the vote that he would not accept anything besides a “clean” DHS appropriations bill without the controversial rider. “If [Republicans] want a debate on immigration starting tomorrow, let’s do it tomorrow, “Reid said. “But not at the express determination of Republicans who are holding hostage homeland security.”
The impasse was set up with the compromise over the “Cromnibus” in December. That bill was a compromise measure between Senate Democrats and House Republicans, which enabled most of the government to be funded for 2015. However, with many conservatives revolting over Obama’s November executive order and hoping to use a potential government shutdown as leverage to reverse it, the compromise was to leave the DHS funded for only two months and kick the can down the road. The idea is that then conservatives could have their fight over Obama’s executive order without bringing down the entire government.
In the past two months, though, the political climate has been greatly altered. With the terrorist attacks in Paris on the newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, along with the continued savage murder of hostages by ISIS, funding for Homeland Security has become a much more sensitive issue. As Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who attacked Obama’s executive order at the time, told reporters, “I think it is going to be very hard to justifying shutting down DHS with all the other countries that are experiencing attacks right now.” She argued that the only way forward was for the Senate to pass “a clean bill.”
In contrast, Republicans went after Democrats for blocking debate. Marco Rubio expressed his disappointment that Reid wouldn’t even allow the Senate to move forward on debate. “At some point we have to address it,” said the Florida Republican. “We can’t allow the Department of Homeland Security, which is essential for the national security of this country, to go unfunded.”
The question is who will blink first; and Senate Republicans don’t seem inclined to make any compromises for now. In his press conference Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell heaped scorn on Reid’s stance, “I think it’s a rather honestly absurd position to say we object to the bill but don’t want debate the bill or change the bill.”
The problem for Senate Republicans in the long term is that en if they make a deal, it still has to pass the House. In order to pass a compromise, Speaker John Boehner would have to defy the conservatives in his caucus yet again and push through a measure to fund the DHS relying heavily on Democrats. One possible concession would be for Boehner to move forward with a planned lawsuit against the president over his executive order–while allowing the DHS to be funded. Although it’s unlikely this will satisfy immigration hawks who see the White House’s actions as blatantly unconstitutional, it would at least avoid a partial government shutdown
In the meantime, funding for the Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to expire at the end of February.