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Senate Republicans Up in 2016: No Shutdown Over Immigration

Kirk wants no part of a government shutdown over immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Kirk wants no part of a government shutdown over immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The coming battle over immigration with the White House has Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2016 fearful of a possible shutdown showdown.  

Indeed, many refuse to even entertain the possibility.  

“There will be no shutdown,” said Sen. Mark S. Kirk, a Republican who will face voters in two years in President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois. Kirk dismissed the idea of a shutdown because he has faith in his chamber’s Republican leadership, headed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, to avoid that outcome. McConnell, who will be majority leader in the next Congress, has said repeatedly he doesn’t expect that to happen.  

Other Republican senators up next cycle gave similar responses, including Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Jerry Moran of Kansas and John McCain of Arizona.  

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who is the newly elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also refused to play “what if.”  

“There is not going to be a shutdown, the leader has made it clear,” Wicker said.  

But a risk remains. Republican leaders didn’t want a shutdown a year ago either, but it happened anyway. And many of the same conservatives who pushed for that effort to defund the Affordable Care Act want a redo with executive amnesty as their new target.  

Scores of conservative Republicans in Congress, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have proposed defunding Obama’s action in future spending bills. That course of action could lead to a shutdown — either via a presidential veto or via the Senate, where 60 votes are need to overcome procedural hurdles.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined Wednesday to issue a blanket veto threat on tying government funding to a defunding effort.  

“Proposals that are floated like that certainly would not be among the kinds of proposals we’d support,” he said of defunding amnesty.  

Like Kirk, he pointed to McConnell’s remarks about avoiding a shutdown.  

Earnest said the White House was confident the action would be implemented, allowing “millions” to come out of the shadows and “get right with the law.”  

Obama will detail his long-awaited executive action to provide relief from deportation to millions of immigrants here illegally on Thursday night.  

On Friday, he will give a speech at a high school in Nevada, a swing state with a growing Latino community. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is also up in 2016, is planning to attend. In 2012, Obama won the Hispanic vote, 70 percent to 25 percent, according to exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center.  

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., who is ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, warned that Obama’s move makes it more likely Congress will pass a continuing resolution, instead of an omnibus package of the 12 annual spending bills where appropriators have more latitude over funding from program to program.  

One possible scenario being discussed by Republicans involves separating the spending package into two continuing resolutions. One would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. The second would cover areas of the budget that fund the immigration laws and would only last a few months.  

Provided the White House went along with that bifurcation — a big if — that would give Republicans a chance to figure out a strategy, revisit the issue in the next few months and prevent a shutdown over the holidays.  

Another scenario would fund the government but promise conservatives a chance to pass a rescission package next year striking any funding for amnesty — although that would appear to be largely symbolic veto bait akin to the GOP’s many votes to repeal Obamacare.  

Some Republicans believe Obama’s move is designed to provoke the GOP and spark a shutdown fight that could be exploited by Democrats in 2016.  

“Don’t take the bait,” urged Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., when asked about a possible shutdown.  

“We should push back, fight appropriately, but impeachment and shutting the entire government down takes the focus away from him to us. … I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Graham, who won re-election in November after facing a tea party challenger in the primary.  

The South Carolina Republican, a key backer of the Senate’s immigration overhaul, warned there might be some Republicans in the House or Senate who try to seize the opportunity to step into the limelight, “but the rest of us want a Republican Party that can compete across the board in 2016.”  

A lot is riding on what House Republican leaders can get through their chamber. The House will go first on the spending bill and Senate Republican leaders have said they would support whatever the House passes.  

“We are working it out,” said Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, the Republican whip. “We will take up whatever the House passes; those talks are intensifying.”  

Several Republicans also said they had learned their lesson from the last shutdown, which lasted for 17 days before Republican leaders threw in the towel.  

“It was a disaster,” McCain said. “We were plummeting in our [approval] numbers and I believe that most of my colleagues appreciate that.”  

This time Cruz is calling for McConnell, who will be majority leader in the next Congress, to hold up all of Obama’s nominations, except for vital security positions, according to an op-ed he wrote in Politico Magazine. And to defund amnesty.  

“If the President is unwilling to accept funding for, say, the Department of Homeland Security without his being able to unilaterally defy the law, he alone will be responsible for the consequences,” Cruz wrote.  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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