- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2015

The deck is stacked against the Republican-run Congress in a showdown with President Obama over Homeland Security Department funding, and the party’s congressional leaders likely will be forced to back down if they don’t quickly shift tactics, a GOP strategist warned Monday.

The stark advice was given as Congress took a weeklong break and the White House prepared to make extensive use of the bully pulpit to blame Republicans for threatening to shut down the department over Mr. Obama’s immigration actions when funding expires Feb. 27.

“It’s challenging to make a case against the Democrats when Republicans are in charge of Capitol Hill,” said Republican political consultant Ron Bonjean. “The obstruction argument didn’t work for Senate Democrats, and Republicans took over because of gridlock.”

The Republicans also are at a disadvantage trying to overcome the message out of the White House with its “larger microphone,” he said.

“If they choose to go head on, then they must pull out all the stops with daily press conferences, deploying high-profile members on TV and swamping social media with their side of the story,” Mr. Bonjean said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cited that same political undercurrent when he predicted that Republicans will “cave” unless they come up with a strategy for using Homeland Security funding to challenge Mr. Obama’s immigration actions.

“The president will never cave. The president is happy to blame the Republicans, and the Republicans won’t be able to explain not paying for border security and things like that,” Mr. Gingrich said Sunday on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

He suggested splitting the funding into two bills: one to fund security measures and another that funds the department’s administration and restricts the deportation amnesty policy. He said that would remove the security issue from the immigration debate.

The House-passed bill that would fund the department for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, remains stuck in a filibuster by Senate Democrats who object to provisions that would block Mr. Obama’s executive action to grant deportation amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has vowed to stand firm as Senate Democrats delay the bill and allow the department’s funding to expire.

Democrats have accused Mr. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, of holding the funding hostage for what they call an “anti-immigrant agenda.”

The White House will hammer home that message at a series of events this week.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden is expected to address the funding standoff Tuesday when he visits the Maryland State Police forensic lab in Baltimore to highlight $41 million in federal funding to clear a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits.

Mr. Obama will shine a spotlight on homeland security funding when the White House hosts a summit on the threat of violent extremism Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, conservative groups have faulted Republican leaders for not doing enough to convince voters that Democrats are responsible for blocking the bill.

“The leadership ought to be out there messaging the fact that it is [Republicans] who are trying to keep DHS running. Any kind of stoppage is obviously because Democrats won’t allow an up-or-down vote on an appropriations bill,” said Kevin Broughton, communications director for Tea Party Patriots.

“The reality is that President Obama has violated the Constitution in unilaterally acting to grant legal status to illegal aliens, and the Democrat position now seems to be that unless you fund this lawlessness, we are going to allow all of DHS to be shut down,” he said. “I’d like to see some prominent Republicans getting that message out there.”

Senate Democrats have voted three times to sustain a filibuster against the $40 billion funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Another vote to end the filibuster is expected Monday, when senators return to Washington four days before the department’s funding expires.

The politics of the standoff are complicated by rules that designate most agency officials as “essential personnel” and require them to work during a shutdown, although they won’t be paid until funding is restored.

Democrats argue that a shutdown would mean furloughs for some employees, and states and localities wouldn’t be able to obtain security grants.

All Democrats, joined by Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, have voted for the filibuster.

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