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Boehner to Allow Clean Homeland Security Vote (Updated)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 11:04 a.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner told his restive flock Tuesday he would allow a vote on a clean Homeland Security spending bill later in the day, citing concerns about terrorism and pinning blame on the Senate for failing to pass limits on President Barack Obama’s immigration actions.

In a humbling moment for the Ohio Republican, he told his members the Senate’s DHS bill would be brought up for a roll call vote after it arrives in the House later Tuesday, according to a source in the room. That effectively leaves it up to the courts to rein in Obama — or not.

“I am as outraged and frustrated as you at the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president,” Boehner said. “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.”

Boehner explained his thinking, putting the onus for what amounts to a cave after months of pledging to fight “tooth and nail” on the Senate.

“Unfortunately, the fight was never won in the other chamber. Democrats stayed united and blocked our bill, and our Republican colleagues in the Senate never found a way to win this fight,” Boehner said. “The three-week CR we offered would have kept this fight going and allowed us to continue to put pressure on Senate Democrats to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that plan was rejected.”

Boehner said another short-term CR would be unlikely to pass, given what happened last week, and he rejected the idea of a partial shutdown of the department.

“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.

Boehner’s announcement ultimately meant he would not hide behind House Rule XXII, which would allow any House member, Democrat or Republican, to force a vote on the clean Senate DHS bill, without Boehner having to do anything.

The reality is that House and Senate Republican leaders have been trying for months to placate conservative demands to roll back Obama’s executive actions without shutting down the government, but had no path to do so given a united Democratic front backed by a veto threat from the president.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a frequent critic of leadership, expressed disappointment GOP leaders didn’t try harder to force a conference with the Senate after Democrats voted to block on Monday.

“It’s an effort to avoid compromise,” he said. “There’s a chance to go to conference and have an actual negotiation, and this is an effort to avoid that. … We certainly have the votes to go to conference and request that the Senate go to conference with us. You have to tie the funding measure to going to conference.”

He’s not satisfied with leaving it to the third branch of government to sort out.

“We can’t punt to the courts. We have an independent duty to uphold the Constitution,” he said.

But conservatives never offered up a plausible scenario to get the 291 House votes and 67 in the Senate needed to override a promised veto of anything limiting Obama’s executive actions, let alone the 60 needed just to bring the bill up for debate in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was the first to fold last week, and the chaotic end to last week raised questions about Boehner’s hold over his conference and the chamber, given that the House could only pass a one-week stopgap bill with the blessing of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calf.

Pelosi cheered Boehner’s capitulation in a statement.

“Today, we have an opportunity, in a bipartisan way, to strengthen the homeland security of our nation. …We shouldn’t wait another day to remove all doubt to our enemies, to American families and to the affected workers that we will fully fund the Department of Homeland Security.”

Boehner’s decision to end the drama now, however, has clear upsides for the GOP. They can now move off of an issue that deeply divides their conference and on to the rest of their agenda, including passing a budget resolution.

But it also shows the limits of the new Republican majority’s ability to exert its will on a determined White House and a committed Senate Democratic minority.

House and Senate Democrats had a similar cave in 2007, when Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave up on their efforts to tie war funding to a date for ending the Iraq war after failing to override President George W. Bush’s veto. In return, they did extract a key priority: a $2.10-an-hour increase in the minimum wage.

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.


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