- The Senate just failed to pass a bill to fund Department of Homeland Security by forcing President Obama to undo his executive actions to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
- One Republican, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), voted with Democrats against the bill.
- Congress and the president need to agree on a plan to fund DHS sometime before February 27th, when its current funding runs out.
- If they can't agree on a funding bill, DHS will be in a technical shutdown — but around 85 percent of the department will keep coming to work as "essential" government workers or employees of fee-funded agencies.
What could Republicans propose as a Plan B?
A few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he wasn't going to talk about "what comes next" until the Senate's plan A, passing the House bill, failed. Well, now it's failed.
Speaker John Boehner is openly calling on the Senate GOP to take the lead from here — and specifically, to find a way to block the president's executive actions. But that's exactly what Democrats are uniting in opposition against.
Based on what Democrats and Republicans have said, here are some hypothetical options that could be tried next:
A "clean" funding bill. If Senate Republicans want to guarantee that a bill passes the Senate and gets signed by the President, they could propose a "clean" funding bill — something that just sets funding levels for DHS without adding any conditions about what the department can or can't do.
This would be Democrats' first choice. But because McConnell and Senate Republicans have been silent about their Plan B, it's not clear whether enough Republicans would support a clean funding bill. They might lose immigration hawks on the issue (like Sen. Ted Cruz in the Senate, or Rep. Steve King and a conservative bloc in the House) who would disapprove of any plan to fund DHS that didn't attack Obama's executive actions. And Boehner's comments, which called out Sen. Cruz and Senate Immigration Subcommittee chair Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in particular, make that more likely.
A funding bill that attacked Obama's executive actions in a more targeted way. The bill that House Republicans passed would strip protections from deportation to hundreds of thousands of people who currently have it (via the DACA program for young unauthorized immigrants), prevent more people for applying from protection from deportation, and reverse a set of memos trying to set deportation "priorities" so that parents of US citizens weren't under the same threat as convicted criminals. Some of those provisions are controversial even among Republicans: over two dozen Republican members of the House, for example, voted to keep the existing deferred-action program for young unauthorized immigrants. Theoretically, Republicans could propose a bill that would only target some of the president's executive actions. A narrower attack wouldn't win Harry Reid over, but it might have slightly broader support than the House bill.
A clean funding bill partnered with a different immigration bill. Some congressional Republicans have suggested that they should be trying to do something themselves on immigration, rather than just trying to block what President Obama has done. It's possible that Senate Republicans could pass a clean funding bill for DHS, but also put together a bill addressing, for example, border security — to make it clear that Republicans are taking a stand on immigration and aren't letting Obama do whatever he wants.
The problem with this idea is that Republicans have had trouble uniting around other immigration bills, too. The border-security bill that Republicans were pushing in both chambers appears to have stalled due to lack of support from conservatives, who think it doesn't do enough to target unauthorized immigrants living in the US.
Nothing. Republicans could just stall for a few weeks and let DHS shut down. Some Republicans appear to be okay with that — they're already saying it would be Democrats' fault if it happens, and pointing out that most of DHS employees would still be working (although many would be working without pay). But some moderate Republicans, particularly in the Senate, appear to be a little uneasy with letting DHS funding lapse.