WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are poised Tuesday to block passage of a Homeland Security spending bill that would derail President Obama's order to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Republicans hold a 54-vote majority in the Senate, but 60 votes are needed to advance the bill and Democrats say they won't help GOP senators thwart Obama's immigration action.
"We are united as a caucus, and we are going to work to stop this (GOP) strategy," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
If the bill fails to pass in the Senate, it will be kicked back to the U.S. House, where Republican leaders must decide whether to withdraw their immigration amendments or risk a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of February. The House passed the $40 billion DHS spending bill on Jan. 14 after amending it to bar funding to implement Obama's executive order.
President Obama visited DHS on Monday to make the case for a clean extension of its budget. "Don't jeopardize our national security over this disagreement," Obama urged Congress in his remarks there.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sent a memo to GOP members Thursday saying that GOP leaders "will be discussing with the (Republican) conference the best way to continue to challenge the president's unconstitutional authority" if the bill fails in the Senate.
Durbin said Tuesday's Senate vote on whether to advance the DHS funding bill may just be an effort by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "to show extremists in his caucus that this approach won't fly in the Senate."
It's not clear what House Republicans' next move will be.
Some House conservatives are pressing GOP leaders to shut down DHS temporarily if that's what it takes to end Obama's executive order on immigration. But Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have indicated they don't want to do that.
Instead, House GOP leaders are working on a package of border security and immigration enforcement bills that they hope will satisfy immigration hard-liners. Boehner also announced at a recent GOP conference meeting that House Republicans plan to sue the Obama administration to challenge the president's executive action as unconstitutional.
The battle has become a rhetorical struggle between Republicans who charge that Obama has overstepped his authority and Democrats who say Republicans are risking America's security to appease their right wing on immigration.
McConnell said presidents should not have the power to ignore laws they don't like on immigration or anything else.
"Will our Democrat colleagues work with us to defend key democratic ideals like separation of powers and the rule of law, or will they stand tall for the idea that partisan exercises of raw power are good things?" McConnell said Friday.
Durbin said the debate shows a clear contrast between the two parties on immigration.
"The Republicans are more frightened by 'DREAMers' (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) than by ISIS," Durbin said. "I welcome the debate."
Obama angered congressional Republicans in November when he announced he would protect from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in the USA by Jan. 1, 2010, and are the parents of U.S. citizens. He would allow many of them to apply for work permits.
The president also expanded his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gave temporary protection from deportation and work permits to immigrants brought to the USA illegally as children. The program has so far helped about 600,000 young immigrants.
The House-passed bill would bar money from being used to carry out the president's latest executive order on immigration while also cutting off funds to the existing DACA program.
As the Senate prepares to debate the bill, three former DHS secretaries — including two Republicans — have joined with current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to urge senators to pass a funding bill that is free of controversial immigration amendments.
"As the recent terror attacks in Paris and the cyberattacks on a major American corporation (Sony) and on the U.S. Military's Central Command remind us, the threats facing the U.S. are very real," wrote former Republican DHS secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff and former Democratic secretary Janet Napolitano in a letter to Senate leaders. "The national security role that DHS plays, and by extension the funding that allows it to carry out its vital national security mission, is critical to ensuring that our nation is safe from harm."
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