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Republican offers immigration vote to try to resolve impasse

February 24, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans who control the U.S. Senate sought a way out of an impasse that could shut down the Homeland Security Department on Friday by separating President Barack Obama’s contested immigration measures from the agency’s funding bill.

The move came as growing numbers of Senate Republicans called for Congress to jettison the immigration fight and pass a “clean” Homeland Security spending bill without immigration language. Several Senate Republicans said the courts were the best place to fight that battle, in the wake of a federal court’s ruling last week stating that Obama had exceeded his authority and putting his effort on hold to protect millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. from deportation.

“Leave it to the courts. I think we have an excellent case before the Supreme Court,” Republican Sen. John McCain said Monday night.

However it remained unclear whether the gambit by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would succeed ahead of Friday’s midnight deadline to fund the department or see it shut down. It was far from certain whether it would win any Democratic support, and conservatives in the Republican-run House of Representatives remain firmly opposed to any funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that does not also overturn Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

A Senate vote to advance the House-passed bill failed 47-46, short of the 60 votes needed. Three previous attempts earlier in the month had yielded similar results.

McConnell left unclear whether a vote overturning Obama’s immigration moves would be followed by a stand-alone vote to fund the Homeland Security Department — an omission not lost on Senate Democrats.

“This proposal doesn’t bring us any closer to actually funding DHS, and Republicans still have no real plan to achieve that goal,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer. “It’s a disgrace that ISIS and al-Shabab are fully funded, but thanks to Republican game-playing, the Department of Homeland Security might not be.”

ISIS in one acronym for the Islamic State militant group that has taken over much of Iraq and Syria. Over the weekend, a video purported to be released by Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked rebel group al-Shabab urged Muslims to attack shopping malls in Western countries.

McConnell’s move came after Obama warned U.S. governors that states would feel the economic pain of a Homeland Security shutdown, with tens of thousands of workers in line to be furloughed if the agency shuts down, and many more essential employees providing airport security and border controls are forced to work without pay.

“It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security,” Obama told governors as they visited the White House as part of their annual conference.

Within hours of Republicans securing the Senate majority last November, McConnell vowed there would be no government shutdowns, but the immigration fight threatened to shut down the Homeland Security Department and undermine Republican promises that they would show the nation they could govern effectively.

Aides said McConnell’s bill would target only the executive actions Obama announced in November, not an earlier directive from 2012 that provided protections to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the country as youths.

The Obama administration on Monday asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas to put his ruling on hold and filed a notice of appeal of his ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

A short-term extension of current funding levels remained possible, but lawmakers have only a few days to come up with even that partial solution before the agency’s funding expires.

A Homeland Security shutdown would result in some 30,000 administrative and other workers getting furloughed. Some 200,000 others would fall into essential categories and stay on the job at agencies like the Border Patrol, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration, though mostly without drawing a paycheck until the situation is resolved.

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