WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, working to avoid an impasse with Democrats, announced Tuesday that a vote on a “clean” Department of Homeland Security funding bill could happen on Friday.
McConnell’s move could break a two-month-old political stalemate, which threatened the department’s partial shutdown by the end of the month if the bill continued to languish in Congress.
“I’ve indicated to the Democratic leader that I’d be happy to have his cooperation to advance the consideration of a clean funding bill which would carry us through till September 30th,” McConnell said.
McConnell’s plan would separate DHS funding from amendments to overturn President Barack Obama’s November executive action on immigration.
The Republican-controlled House tied homeland security to Obama’s plan for shielding undocumented immigrants in an effort to force debate on the issue. McConnell’s offer came after Senate Democrats on Monday struck down for the fourth time the House-approved bill.
“The new bill I described offers another option we can turn to. It’s another way to get the Senate unstuck from a Democrat filibuster and move the debate forward,” McConnell said.
Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who opposes the immigration plan, called McConnell’s plan “a win-win situation.”
But Manchin urged the leadership to have a clean vote on Homeland Security funding before moving on to debate immigration. “I have always said we should keep the two separate,” he said. “The security of our nation is so important and if we can’t show the rest of world we can keep our country safe, then God help us all.”
If the Senate approves, it will be up to the House to decide if it will go along with the plan.
“At this point, I don’t think any of us know what the House might do,” said Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who has previously opposed the GOP plan. “All we can do is send it over and see what the House sends back.”
“There’s an expectation that a lot of activity will likely take place Friday. Obviously, I hope it’s resolved then,” said Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Nevada.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told the press Tuesday morning: “I think if that’s done, and McConnell does carry that out, I think that you will find an overwhelming support for the DHS bill.”
If a funding measure is not passed by midnight on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said 75 to 80 percent of DHS staffers would work without pay and an additional 30,000 employees would be furloughed.
Heller said he had confidence Republicans will get things done. “They are doing everything they possibility can to make sure that funding does not lapse for DHS.”
A McConnell staffer said the House could also reject the proposal to break apart the issues and instead send to the Senate a continuing resolution, which would be a short-term solution to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded.
But Senate minority leader Harry Reid said it would be “a shame” to pass a continuing resolution.
“We need a real resolution to the problem, not a stop-gap measure.” He said. “We are willing to debate immigration, as long as we fund the Department of Homeland Security first.”
Hoyer agreed with Reid: “Any short-term continuing resolution decision would create a cul-de-sac – but we will cross the bridge when we get there.”
The Republican move follows a court decision last week in Texas that blocked the president’s immigration plan on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
“With the federal court injunction, any money from Department of Homeland Security funding will not go towards the executive action,” Senator Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.
According to McConnell’s plan, the Senate would still have to vote separately about whether to overturn the president’s executive action – but the chamber is unlikely to pass such a bill.
The president said Tuesday in an op-ed in The Hill that he would “fight any attempt to turn back” his immigration policies. “We’ve even heard irresponsible threats to shut down the Department of Homeland Security… for no reason other than partisan disagreement over my actions,” Obama wrote.