Congress may have moved on from its shutdown showdown over homeland security, but a spat between Republicans loyal to House Speaker John A. Boehner and those who will fight President Obama’s immigration policy at any cost is rolling right along.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that promotes hard-right candidates for Republican primaries, said Tuesday that it had raised $90,000 on behalf of House Republicans who voted against a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September because it did not dismantle the White House’s amnesty for certain illegal immigrants.
“We want conservative legislators to know that SCF’s got their back and that conservatives in general are supportive of them fighting for these principles,” the fund’s president, former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, said in an interview.
It’s the latest salvo in a tit-for-tat campaign between the group and the American Action Network, a center-right group that this month blasted conservative Reps. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and Jim Jordan of Ohio for failing to back Mr. Boehner’s plans to fund the Homeland Security Department.
It was a short-lived campaign — the House voted to fund the agency on the same day it launched — and the American Action Network downplayed suggestions that it’s at war with the fund.
“There is no ‘back and forth,’” American Action Network spokesman Dan Conston said Tuesday. “Just like the vast majority of conservative voters, AAN believed keeping DHS open was critical for our national security and the best way to fight Obama on his unconstitutional overreach was in the courts.”
The group’s internal polling showed that Republican primary voters supported that approach 63 percent to 26 percent.
The House passed a “clean” homeland security bill last week. All 167 opposing votes were cast by Republicans, capping an awkward run for GOP leaders on both sides of the Capitol.
They could not overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and, in the fractured House, failed to shepherd through a three-week funding bill that would have given them more time to strategize against Mr. Obama and his party allies.
Mr. Boehner has struggled for years to rein in his hard-right flank, a contingent that has balked at voting for measures that could be interpreted as support for White House actions they view as lawless — even if it means shutting down the government.
That sentiment took on new heights in recent weeks, when conservatives dug in over Homeland Security Department funds.
“It shows explicitly the fissure that has opened up between the most conservative Republicans and what, for want of a better term, could be called the establishment Republicans,” said Paul Beck, a politics professor at Ohio State University.
The American Action Network spent $350,000 on ads thanking Republicans who voted to fund the Homeland Security Department, days after it urged the trio of heartland conservatives to send “the right message” to America’s enemies.
Mr. Boehner, meanwhile, distanced himself from the push.
“We are forbidden by law from coordinating with outside political groups — but the speaker does not think these ads are appropriate,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “He strongly believes in Ronald Reagan’s ‘11th Commandment.’”
Reagan said Republicans shouldn’t speak ill of one another because it would weaken the party as a whole.
Beltway groups haven’t laid down their swords, though, and conservatives targeted in this month’s ads said they have emerged even stronger.
“A pro-amnesty, establishment-led political machine is trying to silence conservatives, but we will not abandon the Constitution and give up the fight to stop Obama’s unlawful acts,” Mr. Bridenstine said Tuesday in a statement through the Senate Conservatives Fund.
In Ohio, Mr. Beck said the ads probably will not hurt Mr. Jordan. It is easy to tune out the ads, and tea-party-aligned voters tend to be in the congressman’s corner.
“The most likely primary challenges in one-party Republican districts in Ohio come from the right, from tea party supported candidates, and those challenges have been feeble,” he said. “Would someone like to challenge Jordan? Not likely, given his leadership of the House tea party faction.”
Matt Hickam, a Republican Party consultant based in Topeka, Kansas, said Mr. Huelskamp’s district handed Mr. Obama a 30 percent approval rating in recent polls, so ads that put the lawmaker in opposition to the president will be effective.
“As far as the ads having an impact on the 2016 primaries, it’s much too early,” he said. “His constituents are likely more interested in if there is going to be more rain for their fields of wheat.”