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Mitch McConnell might have figured out how to prevent a DHS shutdown

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  1. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Monday night that he'll bring up a new bill which would block the Obama administration from carrying out its 2014 executive actions on immigration — but which wouldn't tie it to funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
  2. The implication of Sen. McConnell's announcement is that, after considering the bill to block the Obama administration, the Senate might take up a bill to fund DHS without any policy requirements — a "clean" DHS funding bill — or at least a temporary bill to hold the department over.
  3. If Congress doesn't take action to fund DHS, it's set to shut down at midnight on Friday. So far, efforts to pass a funding bill have been derailed by the fight over Obama's immigration actions.
  4. The actions in question would allow millions of unauthorized immigrants to apply for protection from deportation and work permits.
  5. Democrats have said that they'll only sign onto a DHS funding bill if it's clean, so a clean bill would be much more likely to pass the Senate — and could get signed into law by the President.
  6. Shortly before Sen. McConnell's announcement Monday, the Senate failed for the fourth time to meet the 60-vote threshold to consider the funding bill passed by the House, which included a prohibition on using money to carry out the executive actions.
  7. The House bill included not only the 2014 actions, but a program that's already in place from 2012, which has protected around 700,000 unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
  8. The executive actions are currently being held up by a court battle. However, they could restart again pending future rulings. A Congressional prohibition would be the only way to ensure that the programs were permanently put on hold.

Will McConnell's move work?

It's not clear.

As of Monday night, before McConnell announced the new bill, Senators were openly admitting they had no idea how they'd get past the impasse:

Democrats are certain to support a "clean" DHS funding bill. The question is whether Senate Republicans will support a clean funding bill after they've voted to block the president's executive actions separately.

No Senate Republican has said that voting on a separate bill would swing him toward support for clean DHS funding. And a couple of them almost certainly won't be swung. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), for example, were so determined to attach the immigration issue to the last fight over government funding that they ended up holding the Senate in session over a weekend in December.

Sen. McConnell's staff, meanwhile, says that the first bill, targeting Obama on immigration, is intended to squeeze Democrats: namely, the handful of Democrats who support a clean DHS bill but who (according to McConnell's camp) oppose Obama's immigration actions. National Journal names seven Democrats McConnell is targeting: Sens. Joe Donnelly, Al Franken, Heidi Heitkamp, Angus King, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, and Mark Warner. For the most part, they're senators who expressed concerns about unilateral executive action on immigration before the president announced his actions in November; few of them (save Manchin) have been vocal opponents since then. But one purpose of the standalone bill will be to get Democrats "on the record" in support of Obama's actions.

Of course, getting Democrats "on the record" could happen anytime - the question is whether it will be enough to get support for DHS funding, and that appears to be mostly a question of Republican support.

McConnell tends not to advertise what he's going to do in advance — before tonight, he hadn't said anything about proposing a separate bill. So it's possible that he's only doing this now because he has reason to believe it's going to work.