Congress averts DHS shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House and Senate approved a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department for one more week, with just two hours to go before a midnight deadline. The measure was later signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The vote late Friday was 357-60 as Democrats joined majority Republicans in backing the bill that averts a partial government shutdown and funds DHS through March 6.

The vote was a turnaround from a few hours earlier, when tea party conservatives rebelled against GOP leaders and helped sink a measure by a vote of 224-203 that would have ensured full funding for the agency for three weeks. Democrats had opposed that measure, arguing that the department should be funded through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30.

The Senate presented the one-week alternative measure hours later, and passed it by voice vote.

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That amounted to a take-it-or-leave-it offer in the House less than three hours before the deadline for a partial shutdown to begin.

This time, Pelosi urged her rank-and-file to support it — and said it would lead to passage next week of a bill to fund the agency through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. Aides to Speaker John Boehner promptly said there had been no such promise made.

Taken together, the day’s roller-coaster events at the Capitol underscored the difficulty Republicans have had so far this year in translating last fall’s election gains into legislative accomplishment — a step its own leaders say is necessary to establish the party’s credentials as a responsible, governing party. Republicans gained control of the Senate in November’s balloting, and emerged with their largest House majority in more than 70 years.

For their part, tea party conservatives in the House unflinchingly defended their actions.

“It does not make any difference whether the funding is for three weeks, three months or a full fiscal year. If it’s illegal, it’s illegal,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

He referred to a pair of immigration directives issued by Obama. The first, in 2012, lifted the threat of deportation from many immigrants brought to the country illegally as youngsters. Another order last fall applied to millions more who are in the United States unlawfully.

The unexpected House defeat of a three-week spending bill was accomplished by 52 conservatives upset by the deletion of the immigration provisions, and by solid opposition from Democrats who wanted the agency funded through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

That set an unpredictable chain of events in motion. Homeland Security officials circulated a lengthy contingency plan indicating that about 30,000 employees could expect to be furloughed without passage of funding legislation. Then the White House announced Obama had spoken with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Moments later, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky strode onto the Senate floor and swiftly gained approval for the seven-day measure.

The Senate had waited all day to play its part in the funding of the agency. Earlier, a largely symbolic attempt to advance legislation that would repeal Obama’s immigration directive of last fall failed on a vote of 57-42, three short of the 60 required.

That separate proposal was “commonsense legislation that would protect our democracy from the egregious example of executive overreach we saw in November,” said McConnell, who successfully led his rank and file in recent days to a decision to pass Homeland Security legislation without immigration-related provisions.

Some House Republicans said the entire strategy of passing a short-term measure and seeking negotiations on a longer-term bill that included changes in Obama’s immigration policy was flawed. They noted that Senate Democrats had demonstrated their ability to block any challenges to Obama’s immigration policies, and that the president had vowed to veto them in any event.

“Some folks just have a harder time facing political reality than others,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., speaking of other Republicans.

Associated Press writers Charles Babington, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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