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House GOP Scurries To Avert Homeland Security Shutdown


The Department of Homeland Security did not shut down at midnight. With only a couple of hours to spare before DHS was to run out of money, House leaders managed to jam through a bill to keep the department open for seven more days. The agreement came after an earlier plan from House leaders failed. NPR's congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang joins us in our studio. Ailsa, thanks so much for being with us.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: The Republican leadership said they had wanted to demonstrate that with a majority they could get things done. Did they wind up making the case?

CHANG: Well, at the end of the day, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner did avert a crisis. In the end, they were both unwilling to let the Department of Homeland Security shut down. But, you know, after all the debating and all the conferencing, all the strategizing, all the negotiations, what happened at the end of the day was they kept DHS open for only seven more days. So we're going to see this same fight over the president's executive action on immigration resurrect in just a few short days.

SIMON: And this comes down to the House in many ways, doesn't it? Because the Senate passed a bill that would've funded DHS through September, I guess, right?

CHANG: That's right.

SIMON: No mention of the president's immigration policies.

CHANG: That's right. McConnell had made the calculation earlier this week to remove the immigration fight from DHS funding. He decided there was no way he would win that fight. But conservative House Republicans were not having that, so Speaker Boehner tried passing a bill to give them three weeks to work things out. But that bill monumentally failed yesterday because it didn't have the support of conservative Republicans or the support of Democrats. And that's when House leaders suddenly disappeared for a few hours yesterday to strategize. And they were ultimately saved by Democrats, who said that they would support a one-week extension of DHS funding if the House would vote next week on full funding for the department through the end of the fiscal year. So we'll see if that actually happens.

SIMON: When Republicans won such a big majority a few months ago, weren't there a lot of confident predictions that Speaker Boehner wouldn't have to scramble around the way he did before?

CHANG: There were predictions that...

SIMON: I know you wouldn't have said such a thing, but some other analysts did, yeah.

CHANG: You know, there were predictions that maybe with a stronger Republican majority, his position would be safer within his caucus. But so far, it looks like he's still struggling. You know, both Boehner and McConnell had promised that they wouldn't preside over any more government shutdowns. But Boehner has this very vocal, very determined group of conservatives within his caucus who aren't afraid of challenging him. And in fact, that group is actually bigger now than it was before the election. More than 50 Republicans had voted against his first plan yesterday. So in the end, Boehner had to decide how far would he go to placate that particular camp. Here's House Republican Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.


CONGRESSMAN CHARLIE DENT: At some time, you just have to marginalize those who, you know, really don't have any sense of governance. I mean, there are those of us who are the governance wing in the party and those who don't have enough of a firm sense of governance.

SIMON: Over in the Senate, what kind of pressures are on Senator McConnell?

CHANG: Well, it's a little bit different. The harsh reality for McConnell is he needs 60 votes to get anything through the Senate, and that means six Democrats have to peel off to join him each and every time. And this time around, they were very united - completely united on this issue - demanding that DHS be funded without any conditions whatsoever so McConnell relented. But it was very clear that he and Boehner were not in sync on their strategies, which created actually a lot of tension between the two chambers. Many House Republicans resented being pressured by the Senate to pass a long-term funding bill, so that's one reason they pushed back with this shorter-term bill. Here's how House Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma put it.


CONGRESSMAN TOM COLE: I also, you know, understand the dynamics of this building of not allowing yourself to be blackmailed by the United States Senate. So there is a level with this that's not Republicans versus Democrats. It really is the Senate versus the House.

CHANG: So now everyone has gone home to cool off and regroup. And next week, we're going to be right back at this again. So, you know, in a lot of ways really nothing has changed since last fall.

SIMON: Ailsa Chang, thanks so much.

CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.