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Ending Uncertainty, House Approves Year’s Funding for Homeland Security

By ASHLEY PARKER – MARCH 3, 2015

John A. Boehner, House speaker, after the vote on Homeland Security funding on Tuesday. Mr. Boehner pushed through a “clean” spending bill over the objections of his more hard-line members. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year, averting a partial shutdown of the agency after weeks of uncertainty, but inflaming conservative lawmakers.

The legislation passed, 257 to 167, with only 75 Republican votes, and it now heads to President Obama’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.

In the vote on Tuesday — an abrupt reversal of position by House Republicans — what started as an uprising by conservative lawmakers ended largely in a resigned whimper, with Speaker John A. Boehner pushing through a “clean” spending bill over the objections of his more hard-line members, who had hoped to use the measure to fight what they say are Mr. Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions on immigration.

“How did we end up with kind of a slow demise, even after a very hefty kind of rhetoric?” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Well apparently that’s the way it’s done around here. I don’t agree with it.”

Mr. Boehner’s decision, surprising in its timing, reduced the potential for the political fallout that Republicans would most likely have faced if the department’s operations were halted in a way that harmed public safety.

In a closed meeting of Republicans, Mr. Boehner told members that he was “as outraged and frustrated as you at the lawless and unconstitutional actions of this president,” according to one person who was in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Boehner added that he thought the decision was “the right one for this team, and the right one for this country.”

Mr. Boehner’s turnabout came after his leadership team suffered a humiliating setback on Friday, narrowly averting a partial shutdown of the department after his more conservative members revolted against a Republican plan to pass a three-week funding measure.

The House leadership had hoped that the short-term measure would provide it with more time to pressure the Senate to take up a bill that passed the House in January. That measure would have funded the agency but would also have gutted the legal protections that Mr. Obama provided through executive actions to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children.

But the backlash against the near shutdown of the agency was swift, with Republicans shouldering the brunt of the criticism — from Democrats, from the news media and even from many in their own party. The Republican leadership — which had promised to govern effectively, without the threat of government shutdowns, after gaining control of both chambers of Congress in the November elections — had now failed its first major governing test, and it realized it needed to move beyond the current fight.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Boehner presented three possible solutions to his members — a partial shutdown of the agency, another short-term measure that would postpone the fight, or a “clean” funding bill with no immigration provisions. His members quietly accepted a plan for full funding.

“You would have thought we were talking about renaming a post office,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who has long pushed to fund the department with no strings attached.

“I do give John Boehner credit for standing strong through all this and guiding us,” Mr. King said. “A certain group takes the party in this crazy direction and we end up coming back and doing the right thing in the end, with just political damage done along the way. Thank God there was no governmental damage done along the way.”

The timing of the vote was auspicious, and strategic. By bringing up the legislation on the same day that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addressed a joint meeting of Congress, Mr. Boehner capitalized both on the spectacle and the political cushion from his members, who were pleased with the way he stood up to the White House in inviting Mr. Netanyahu to speak.

After Mr. Boehner presented the plan, he asked for questions, but received none. Then, Representative Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, stood up to thank the speaker for standing strong in the face of White House attacks on Mr. Netanyahu, and the conference gave Mr. Boehner a standing ovation.

But not every lawmaker was pleased with the outcome. Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, said that the speaker had “just caved in” and that his strategy had clearly “failed.”

“Tooth-and-nail ended in here today,” he said, referring to Mr. Boehner’s promise to fight the president’s executive actions on immigration “tooth and nail.” “Everybody kind of must have laughed to themselves when he said he’s going to listen and work with all members in the future. I don’t think a soul in there believed that story.”

Similarly, Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa and an outspoken immigration opponent, said that he was frustrated with the outcome, but that his conference had succumbed to “the exhaustion of the relentless push and the strategic moves that were made in the Senate, and also in the House.”

“I think the mood of this thing is such that to bring it back from the abyss is very, very difficult,” Mr. King said.

Tuesday’s reversal by House Republicans also reflects a win for congressional Democrats, who opposed any bill that did not fully fund the agency or had additional provisions, forcing Republicans into a jam — and, ultimately, into passing a clean bill, as Democrats had demanded all along.

Emmarie Huetteman contributed reporting.

Rother (2013) A Tale of Two Tactics.pdf

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