- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Four months after vowing to use Congress’ power of the purse to block President Obama’s deportation amnesty, House Republican leaders completed their retreat from a shutdown showdown Tuesday and surrendered to Democrats’ demands for a “clean” homeland security funding bill.

House Speaker John A. Boehner ultimately relied on Democrats to pass the legislation, sending a bill to Mr. Obama’s desk that provided $40 billion to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year without restricting the president’s immigration actions.

But GOP leaders’ retreat exposed a deep break in the party, with rank-and-file conservatives saying they had broken their promises to their voters and ceded their ability to use the power of the purse to stop the president on big issues.

“If we are not going to fight now, when are we going to fight?” Rep. Matt Salmon, Arizona Republican, challenged his colleagues.

Republican leaders had promised a fight after Mr. Obama in November announced plans to grant legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers to as many as 4 million illegal immigrants.

But the leaders tamped down an initial battle on an omnibus spending bill in December, vowing to fight in the new year when they had majorities in both the House and Senate.

The House began the year by passing a Homeland Security Department spending bill that funded agencies while also halting the amnesty. Senate Democrats, though, filibustered, and Senate Republicans conceded defeat, stripping out the anti-amnesty language and stranding House GOP leaders.

Mr. Boehner told his troops early Tuesday that he was backing down and would rely on Democrats to pass the bill. It passed 257-167, with Republicans casting all of the no votes.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday night he would sign the Homeland Security funding bill into law “as soon as I receive it.”

He said of the department’s employees, “They’re law enforcement professionals and brave patriots who do a remarkable job and deserve our gratitude and respect. After far too long, Congress finally voted to fully fund their mission.”

The floor debate echoed the infighting among Republicans, with GOP lawmakers taking both sides of the debate, while Democrats sat back and quietly watched the show.

Mr. Boehner’s surrender could spur conservatives to mount a rebellion to oust him as speaker, though such a move would be a rare occurrence, and Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that Mr. Boehner was not in jeopardy.

“We need to protect American security. We need to do the right thing,” the Oregon Republican told The Washington Times.

Republican leaders argued that a federal court made the spending fight moot last month when the judge issued an injunction, ruling that Mr. Obama’s amnesty is probably illegal. The Obama administration has appealed that ruling.

“Every now and then you have to take a step back and realize that we are not the only players,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and close ally of Mr. Boehner, who said the courts have the issue now. Mr. Cole also insisted the spending bill was necessary because it “protects American people from real physical harm and danger.”

Throughout the funding standoff, Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security. After the GOP retreat Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid rubbed Republicans’ faces in their defeat.

“If this ordeal teaches us one thing, it is that for the sake of our country, we must stop governing by crisis,” said the Nevada Democrat. “As we move forward, I hope we all learn the right lessons from this unnecessary showdown. Common ground should be something we seek, not run away from — especially when the security of our nation is at stake. If we are going to get anything done, we must not be afraid of working together.”

Still, a large faction of conservative lawmakers showed repeatedly that they were willing to shut down the department to challenge what they insist are illegal actions by the president. They joined with Democrats on Friday to defeat a three-week funding extension, curtailing Republican leaders’ options this week.

The showdown has exposed tensions between Republicans in the House and Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, was the first to capitulate. He agreed last week to strip out the anti-amnesty measures from a House-passed funding bill, sending the “clean” bill back to the lower chamber and backing Republicans there into a corner.

Before the vote, Mr. Boehner told Republican lawmakers in a closed-door meeting that the party should not shut down the Homeland Security Department amid ever-present terrorist, threats and blamed Senate Republicans for failing to find a way to win the standoff.

“As you’ve heard me say a number of times, the House has done its job by passing legislation to fund DHS and block the president’s executive actions on immigration. Unfortunately, the fight was never won in the other chamber,” he said, according to a source in the room.

He insisted that a shutdown was the wrong option, arguing that it wasn’t worth risking national security to fight the amnesty program that has already been halted by a federal court.

“With more active threats coming into the homeland, I don’t believe that’s an option. Imagine if, God forbid, another terrorist attack hits the United States,” he said.

“I am as outraged and frustrated as you at the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president,” he told the conference. “I believe this decision — considering where we are — is the right one for this team and the right one for this country. The good news is that the president’s executive action has been stopped for now. This matter will continue to be litigated in the courts, where we have our best chance of winning this fight.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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