WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner left open the possibility Monday of passage of long-term funding for the Department of Homeland Security without immigration provisions attached, as his alternatives dwindled for avoiding a capitulation to the White House and Democrats.
Boehner declined to say over the weekend if he would permit a vote on the Senate-passed measure, and his spokesman similarly sidestepped the question on Monday. Officials in both parties predict it would pass, and end the recurring threat of a partial agency shutdown.
Democrats said they believe the speaker eventually would relent and permit a vote on the bill, which conservatives oppose and President Barack Obama is eager to sign. “I would hope and expect that we will have a vote” this week, said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat.
The White House also urged a vote on the measure.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats were ready to do their part. They vowed to foreclose another one of Boehner’s steadily declining list of options by dealing defeat to a Republican call for formal House-Senate negotiations on the subject.
A decision by Boehner to permit a vote on the stand-alone funding bill would mark the complete failure of a Republican strategy designed to make funding for the Department of Homeland Security contingent on concessions from Obama. The president has issued a pair of directives since 2012 that lifted the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, steps that Republicans say exceeded his constitutional authority.
DHS, which has major anti-terrorism duties, is also responsible for border control.
A funding bill for the agency has produced partisan gridlock in the first several weeks of the new Congress, even though Republicans gained control of the Senate last fall and won more seats in the House than at any time in 70 years.
Democratic unity blocked passage in the Senate of House-passed legislation with the immigration provisions. By late last week, a split in House GOP ranks brought the department to the brink of a partial shutdown. That was averted when Congress approved a one-week funding bill that Obama signed into law only moments before a midnight Friday deadline.
The public recriminations bordered on ferocious. Lawmakers aligned with the leadership complained about tea party-backed conservatives who refused to vote even for a three-week bill that was designed to provide a face-saving way out of the struggle.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said his party’s leadership was in a position of trying to “placate a small group of phony conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama’s lawlessness.”
He added they are “seemingly unaware that they can’t advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.”
Boehner, interviewed over the weekend on CBS’ Face the Nation, was less acerbic, but critical nonetheless.
Asked if his GOP critics had a plan to force Obama to sign legislation they wanted, he replied, “Not that I know of.”
Despite claims by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and others in her party, Boehner denied pledging last week to permit a vote on a full-year funding bill without immigration provisions in exchange for Democratic votes on the one-week measure that avoided a partial shutdown.
Instead, he said in the CBS interview he had promised her he would follow the “regular order” in the House, which generally means following the rules as legislation is debated. In this case, he said if Senate Democrats blocked GOP attempts to open negotiations on the issue, the stand-alone “may be coming back to the House.” He didn’t say if he would allow a vote on it.
Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, also declined to say if the bill backed by Democrats and the White House would be allowed to come to a vote. Instead, he noted that the House is seeking formal negotiations, adding, “That is the proper course of action under the Constitution, as Senate Democrats have said in the past.”
DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent