DHS impasse down to the wire in Congress

Willie Grace | 2/26/2015, 6:52 p.m.
Once Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to strip out language that would have reversed President Barack Obama's recent executive ...
Sign and gate at the exterior of the US Department of Homeland Security.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After five attempts, the Senate finally cleared a key procedural hurdle on Wednesday to move forward on a measure that would fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is scheduled to run out of money on Friday.

Once Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to strip out language that would have reversed President Barack Obama's recent executive actions on immigration from the DHS measure, Democrats unified with conservatives in a 98-2 vote to move forward on a so-called clean bill. Even key Senate critics of not including the immigration provisions in the bill -- like Ted Cruz -- said they would not drag out passage of the bill through procedural delays that are at their disposal.

And though McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner hadn't talked to each other for two weeks, they huddled in the Senate leader's office for about 40 minutes on Wednesday.

Both McConnell and Boehner's offices were mum on what, if anything came out of their discussion and both downplayed the get-together as just "their regular weekly meeting."

Boehner holds his weekly press conference on Thursday but isn't expected to reveal next steps until the Senate votes. Multiple House GOP sources expect the House will try to change any clean bill the Senate sends over with some type of restriction on the White House's ability to implement its immigration policies and send it back to the Senate.

It's unclear how much time they will have to ping-pong the funding measure before the deadline on Friday.

Aides also expect both chambers could approve some short-term extension of current funding levels for a few days or a week to avoid a DHS shutdown.

Leading up to Wednesday's shift in tactics, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate had been effectively been pointing at each other to come up with an end game.

If Boehner allows a vote on a clean bill he would inflame those on the right in his party, as well as outside conservative groups who have zeroed in on this bill as the place to wage the fight on immigration. If he fails to approve funding for the agency he will be blamed for another government shutdown.

For now, House GOP members are pleased Boehner is trying to pressure on the Senate. But many conservatives are outwardly hostile toward McConnell, who they believe is undermining the party's pledge to oppose the President for going around Congress.

"The voters believed that in November Harry Reid was going to be dethroned and that the Senate was going to be controlled by Republicans. I'm sad that hasn't happened," Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said, referring to the top Democrats in the Senate.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said fellow Republicans equated McConnell's move to "surrender."

"There is no way on God's green earth that I am going to fund illegal conduct," Brooks said, insisting that the House-passed bill that tied DHS money with provisions to roll back the President's immigration's policies was the only acceptable plan.

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who heads a group of House conservatives, reiterated he and his colleagues were standing firm.

"No one wants a shutdown -- we've said that time and time again," Jordan said, "but we also took an oath to uphold the Constitution and we know in our hearts this is unconstitutional."

A few moderate House Republicans have said they could accept a clean spending bill, but multiple members told CNN after Wednesday's meeting that the majority of GOP members would oppose that proposal if it came up.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been a regular public presence, warning about the impact for his agency of a shutdown. He's also continuing to make the rounds on Capitol Hill, appealing to members to find a way out before the deadline at midnight on Friday.

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