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Senate Democrats Again Block Homeland Security Funding Tied to Immigration

5 Feb

WASHINGTON — For the second consecutive day, Senate Democrats blocked their Republican colleagues from bringing a bill to the floor to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which has become a proxy for a broader policy disagreement over President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The department is set to run out of money on Feb. 27, but Democrats object to amendments in the funding bill, sent from the House, that would undo the president’s actions that provide legal protections to as many as five million immigrants, including children, who are in the country illegally.

Despite a ticking clock that could lead to a shutdown of the agency, the cycle of futile votes is unlikely to end anytime soon.

Even after Senate Democrats successfully blocked the bill again on Wednesday, in a 53 to 47 procedural vote, an aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, signaled that he planned to bring it up again as early as Thursday. Republicans need 60 votes to bring the bill to the floor, which would probably require peeling off six Democratic votes.

“Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Voting for the same bill over and over again,” asked Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who also warned that Congress could not allow the department to shut down. “I don’t know how you can say that you defund a branch of government and expect it to function.”

Walking in and out of a lunch on Wednesday that was billed as one of the first full Senate bipartisan gatherings in nearly two years, the only bipartisan consensus seemed to be that the other side was at fault.

Republicans blamed Democrats for blocking funding for the Department of Homeland Security, saying that they were being extreme and obstructionist by refusing even to open debate on the bill. Democrats blamed Republicans, saying that by attaching amendments aimed at fighting the president’s immigration executive actions to a spending bill, they were playing politics with the agency’s funding.

“It would be irresponsible for the Democrats to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “They are attempting to hold our national security hostage in order to protect the president’s illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty.”

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, using the example of the Islamic State militant group, had an equally harsh and decidedly opposite analysis.

“In a time when the world is united in trying to send a strong signal about confronting ISIS and defeating ISIS, I think putting veto bait in the funding for homeland security is a very bad idea,” she said. “It is an awkward time for them to try to mire this down in presidential immigration politics.”

At least a small part of Wednesday’s action seemed aimed at showing House Republicans that even though Republicans now control both chambers of Congress, there are limits to their power.

“It’s our view that the president acted in an unconstitutional fashion, and we understand what the House did, but we hope they understand our constraints as well,” Mr. McCain said. “But we cannot shut down the Department of Homeland Security with the threats that we have from ISIS and overseas.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, spent the day working behind the scenes to gather support for an amendment that would fund the agency and still repeal Mr. Obama’s 2014 executive actions, but not the protections for the young immigrants brought here as children and known as Dreamers.

“I’m certainly trying to put an alternative out there so that the choice isn’t just the House bill or nothing,” Ms. Collins said. “Nobody else seems to be presenting a way out of the impasse, so I thought I’d try.”

Many of her Republican colleagues are increasingly opposed to rolling back the 2012 protections for the young immigrants, which they think made them look unsympathetic, especially with Hispanic voters who will be crucial in the 2016 presidential election.

But many of the centrist Democrats whom Republicans would need to support the plan by Ms. Collins, or any alternative, said they were committed to supporting only a “clean” funding bill.

“I have been critical of the president’s unilateral action on immigration, but I am just as critical of congressional inaction,” said Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats. “Let’s fund Homeland Security — it’s more crucial now than ever — and then, let’s take up an immigration bill, have a fair and open debate about it, and if we can, get it to the president’s desk.”

And, from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia: “Can’t we agree that homeland is important enough to be a stand-alone, separate piece of legislation? I feel very strongly D.H.S. should be a clean bill.”

At the White House on Wednesday, the president hosted a half-dozen young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally and benefited from his 2012 executive order. In a statement afterward, Mr. Obama warned Republicans in Congress not to pass legislation that would reverse the steps he has taken to help protect immigrants from deportation.