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McConnell’s Move to Avert Shutdown Cheers Vulnerable Senators Up in 2016

McConnell wants to end the DHS funding fight ASAP. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
McConnell wants to end the DHS funding fight ASAP. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is always looking ahead to the next election.  

And as much as the Kentucky Republican’s move to go ahead with a clean bill funding the Department of Homeland Security drew the ire of the conservative base, others including those on the ballot and vulnerable in 2016 said it was important to resolve the issue and get on with the GOP agenda.  

Republican Sen. Mark S. Kirk, who is running for re-election in the generally blue state of Illinois, said Tuesday that GOP senators should tell the House Republicans who are against advancing the appropriations bill without riders in opposition to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration that “this is the way the Senate demands this go.”  

“The House should just go along with the Senate. The burden of majority is the burden of governing, and you’ve got to fund” Homeland Security, Kirk said, praising McConnell’s efforts. “Mitch has been aroud the block a few times … we’ll be able to extract ourselves from a totally unneccessary battle that the House has put us in.”  

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose seat is also up in 2016, said he hopes that the fight between those that want to govern and conservatives doesn’t continue to flare up.  

“I hope not because it’s very important to show that we can govern, so we are going to have to show some results here,” McCain said, adding that he believes that splitting the bill was the “right strategy.”  

But while a path is clear (though perhaps rough) to pass a clean DHS bill through the Senate, getting one through the House could be difficult, at best. One GOP senator up for re-election in 2016 said it doesn’t do any good for only the Senate to act.  

“I don’t think most people distinguish between the House and the Senate in the real world,” the senator said. “That’s not a governing majority if the House can’t” ultimately clear the bill to send it to Obama’s desk.  

But coordinating with the House has proven difficult.  

“The House doesn’t know what it can do until they have to do it,” the senator said.  

Another factor at play? The presence of swarms of conservative activists not far away at the National Harbor resort in suburban Maryland for the Conservative Political Action Conference, where the idea of funding the Homeland Security Department without a blockade of the executive actions — however impossible — will likely go over like a lead balloon.  

“The activist community obviously is very adamantly opposed to what the president’s executive action did. It was unconstitutional … and illegal, and so you know, they want to see, I think, Congress battle the White House over that,” South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune said. “The fact that a lot of people are here for that, perhaps shapes a little bit the discussion.”  

But Thune, the Republican Conference chairman, said that it was also important to get fiscal 2015 spending figured out in order to focus on Republican priorities.  

“I think in terms of the rest of the legislative agenda that I think that we really want to take on for the balance of the year, you know, the longer we get into this protacted discussion about this particular appropriations bill, the harder it is to get on to those other items,” Thune said. “It’s important, and we need to express in a very direct … way our opposition to the president’s executive order.”  

“At some point, I hope we can navigate this and get on to where we’re dealing with things that are about creating jobs and growing the economy,” Thune said.  

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran echoed that sentiment. The Mississippi Republican noted that his subcommittees have already begun to hold hearing on the dozen fiscal 2016 measures.  

“It certainly provides an incentive to restore the regular order of procedure. You know, with the hearings and experts from outside of Congress and the government giving us their reaction to legislation and proposals for dealing more effectively with spending of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Cochran said. “We do have a good number of newer, younger members and I think it’s a good time to really take a hard look at our procedures for managing the … budget that we don’t incur big deficits inevitably within our operating budgets.”  

Former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who was in the Capitol Wednesday, underscored the need to govern, or the GOP majority will be threatened. His home state of New Hampshire is sure to be one of the hottest battlegrounds on the 2016 Senate map, where GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte will be on the ballot.  

“There is nobody in the party who’s really not a conservative,” Gregg said. “But some people are here to govern, and some people are here to get attention and some people are here for purposes that are unclear to me. But in any event, the purpose of the majority is to govern. Once you are given the majority you can no longer can stand in the corner and shout. So the job is to govern and that means you have to reach agreement and in the Senate … you have to go across the aisle to reach agreement.”  

Ayotte was quick to issue a statement on Tuesday in support of McConnell’s move ahead with the clean DHS spending bill, while also setting up a vote on a proposal from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressing opposition to Obama’s 2014 executive actions.  

“I am encouraged that a recent court ruling has found the president’s executive action on immigration exceeded his legal authority and has blocked its implementation. In light of the court injunction – which prevents the administration from carrying out the president’s executive action – I will support legislation that would fully fund homeland security operations for the rest of the fiscal year,” Ayotte said. “I will also vote in favor of a separate measure that would defund the president’s 2014 executive action, and I support further challenging his illegal actions through the court system.”  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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