WASHINGTON (CNN) — Senate Republicans have made key concessions in the battle over funding the Department of Homeland Security ahead of a deadline looming at the end of this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced at a press conference Tuesday he is willing to allow a vote on a so-called “clean” DHS bill that would fund the agency through the end of September prior to a vote planned for Friday on blocking President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
This meets a key demand from Senate Democrats to approve DHS funding before voting on the controversial immigration issue.
McConnell announced Monday he would split the DHS funding measure from the fight over the President’s executive orders as a way to break the logjam in Congress over the contentious issues. But Democrats said it was important to them they pass DHS before voting on the immigration provisions.
“I don’t know what’s not to like about this,” McConnell told reporters. “This is an approach that respects both points of view and give senators an opportunity to go on record on both. Both funding the Department of Homeland Security and expressing their opposition to what the President did last November.”
The initial response from Senate minority leader Harry Reid and Democrats was skeptical but they did not reject McConnell’s offer. Reid said before the plan is voted on in the Senate, he wants to make sure House Speaker John Boehner is on board and the proposal has a chance to actually pass in the House.
“Unless the speaker is in on the proposal, of course, we have to make sure that we get a bill to the President,” Reid said. “Not that we send a hot potato to Boehner. That doesn’t do the trick.”
Boehner’s spokesman declined to say whether the speaker would bring up a clean bill and continued to insist it was up to Senate Democrats to avoid a shutdown.
“The speaker has been clear: the House has acted, and now Senate Democrats need to stop hiding. Will they continue to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security or not?” Michael Steel said in a written statement to CNN.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide later told CNN Reid was likely to accept the McConnell proposal regardless of Boehner’s commitment to put it up for a vote since McConnell had basically given the Democrats what they wanted.
Rank-and-file Senate Republicans, who were briefed on McConnell’s proposal during a closed policy lunch, were divided on the plan.
Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller stressed the need to avoid a shutdown before the deadline on Friday to ensure public safety.
“I think everything is threatened at the point — especially after what you are seeing going on in Paris and Copenhagen. The last thing we need is for something to happen in Las Vegas or to happen in New York. It’s an economic issue – security is paramount,” he said.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz refused to comment immediately following McConnell’s statement, but his office later distributed a release that said, “Leadership’s current plan — to pass clean DHS funding and separate legislation barring executive amnesty — is a mistake.”
But the Texas conservative stopped short of saying whether he would try to block or delay a vote on the clean funding bill.
Other Senate conservatives have not said whether they would try to block any agreement between Reid and McConnell to vote on a clean funding bill for the agency. If the they use procedural tool at their disposal, they could delay passage past the Friday deadline. Most House Republicans have insisted that any bill to fund the agency had to include provisions to block the president’s executive actions.
Arizona GOP Rep. Matt Salmon tweeted out his opposition to McConnell’s offer to move a DHS bill without any provisions on immigration, and reiterated that House Republicans are standing firm on their proposal.
“The #Senate has a bill to fully #FundDHS, we passed #HR240 > 1 month ago. I doubt this new plan will survive #House,” Salmon tweeted.
In order to avoid a shutdown, Boehner would likely have to turn to House Democrats to produce the majority of votes to approve a clean funding bill, a move that would open him up to sharp criticism from many on the right and grassroots activists around the country.
House Republicans are scheduled to have their first meeting after a week-long recess on Wednesday morning.
Another factor that might complicate their willingness to go along with a compromise is the President’s veto of legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. A flood of angry press releases and messages on social media from GOP members erupted after the veto’s message was delivered on Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, major national conservative groups reiterated their opposition to a clean DHS funding bill, ramping up pressure on their members to hold their ground.
Heritage Action, the policy advocacy arm of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, labeled any funding bill that doesn’t address the immigration order a “key vote” that would be used to evaluate members for its conservative scorecard.
“Further exposing the blatant hypocrisy of Senate Democrats is no substitute for stopping President Obama’s dangerous and unlawful amnesty,” said Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham.
“As the majority leader said last year, the power of the purse is the ‘only tool’ Congress has to rein in executive overreach. As such, Heritage Action will key vote against any DHS bill that would allow for the funding of the President’s unconstitutional amnesty,” he said.
With just days until the Friday deadline, it is still likely that House Republicans could take up the clean funding bill the Senate sends them and attach some type of immigration provision to the bill and send it back, forcing another last minute standoff.