It’s something of a miracle that the nation’s Homeland Security Department can still turn on the lights this week.
OK, that’s an overstatement, because most of the staff would remain at work even if congressional dysfunction had caused a shutdown of Homeland Security because the work is considered vital. But it would have led to all kinds of expensive paperwork headaches and even more waste at the agency that’s tasked with thwarting the work of fanatical terrorists who appear to be growing in number.
The last-minute dodge of the shutdown came long after dark Friday night in Washington, after a plan pushed by House Speaker John Boehner blew up in his face when he couldn’t round up enough Republicans to support a three-week funding measure and Democrats decided they didn’t want to help him out of the jam.
The GOP revolt against Boehner stemmed from the notion that allowing a vote on a clean resolution—one that just funded Homeland Security through the rest of the fiscal year without attaching some amendments thwarting President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration—was capitulating the lawlessness of the illegitimate non-lover of America now occupying the White House.
This political strategy worked so well that Boehner’s entire plan to keep Homeland Security collapsed on Friday afternoon after the Senate passed a clean spending bill and sent it to the House. Boehner couldn’t round up the votes for what would have been an agonizing three mores of fumbling because the hostage-taking politics just don’t work anymore—and if the House and Senate can’t even agree once Republicans run both chambers, it’s going to look like Republicans can’t govern. Or, as Rep. Peter King told MSNBC, “We should not put American lives at risk to win an immigration battle with the president," King said. "I’ve had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party."
Southern Arizona Rep. Martha McSally seems to want to start hanging out with what King calls the non-delusional wing of the party. Sure, she first voted to tie the amendments to funding DHS as a matter of principle. But last week, she penned a USA Today column that decried the tactics of attaching the battle against Obama’s executive action to Homeland Security funding, saying that “the president's actions should be reversed, but not by withholding funding from the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our country safe.”
But McSally is not quite ready to join the likes of King or even Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have both been condemning the House tactics of tying funding of Homeland Security to blocking Obama’s executive actions. When asked directly last week if that McSally’s op-ed meant she would support a clean funding bill, spokesman Patrick Ptak said via email that the office is "monitoring closely to see how the Senate will act since the House has passed a DHS funding bill and will keep you updated."
McSally ended up voting for the three-week extension that lost on Friday afternoon, along with fellow Republican David Schweikert; on the other side were Republicans Matt Salmon, Trent Franks and Paul Gosar (who wanted to keep fighting the Obama administration over the executive actions) and Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick and Raul Grijalva, who hung together with the rest of the Democrats. The only Democratic defection was Kyrsten Sinema, who voted with McSally and Schweikert.
The Senate then threw Boehner another lifeline: A bill that would keep DHS up and running for one week. On that one, Salmon, Trent and Gosar still voted no, along with Grijalva.
In a statement after the vote, McSally offered a general condemnation of both the White House and Congress along with a general reassurance that she would do the right thing on immigration—even if she remains reluctant to say what that right thing is when it comes to dealing with the undocumented immigrants now in the United States.
“Instead of holding up funding for the men and women who secure our border and defend our homeland, Congress should act to stop the President’s overreach by doing its job,” McSally said. “I remained committed to ensuring that our homeland security assets are funded and will continue to work with my colleagues to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.”
Both of Arizona’s Republican senators voted for the one-week funding extension, with Sen. John McCain decrying Obama’s executive actions but concluding that “for the safety and security of the American people, and at a time of growing terrorist threats here at home and abroad, I believe we have a responsibility to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that she had a promise from GOP leadership to hold a vote on a clean funding bill for the remainder of the year; Boehner says no such deal has been struck. We’ll see what this week brings.
Politico is speculating that the episode could topple Boehner:
Boehner’s allies are concerned after Friday’s setback that his critics inside the Republican Conference may try to oust him as speaker if — as expected — he puts a long-term DHS funding bill on the House floor next week. While Boehner shrugs off such speculation, close friends believe such a move is a real possibility.
“There is a lot of speculation about this,” said a GOP lawmaker who is close with Boehner. “People are watching for this very, very closely.”
More importantly, the funding-fight fiasco could lead to a major political casualty: John Boehner’s speakership. If that happens (and admittedly, it’s a very big if), Boehner would be the second member of the House Republican Leadership to be dethroned in less than 10 months, and it would indicate that some public policy differences within the Republican party are lethally irreconcilable.
“The Speaker has the strong support of the overwhelming majority of House Republicans—and he’s not going anywhere,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel in an email.
Even though the possibility still seems remote, the fact that we’re even talking about it is telling, and it’s a significant indicator of how fraught the GOP’s divide over immigration has become.