Republicans Set Stage for Immigration Showdown

House to vote next week on bill to fund Homeland Security, block Obama's executive order.

House Republicans plan to move a Homeland Security funding bill next week that aims to block not only President Obama's executive action granting legal work status to millions of undocumented immigrants, but also a previous action shielding children of immigrants from deportation.

The strategy could set up an early veto fight with Obama and test whether GOP leaders can shepherd a bill through a House Republican Conference that is fractured and mostly uninterested in compromise. It also will gauge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's ability to move a controversial measure through his closely divided chamber.

House leaders are briefing the conference Friday morning. But in a huddle ahead of that meeting, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and a small circle of members went over the specifics.

The DHS funding bill will be released as soon as Friday. When it comes to the floor next week, members will vote on a range of amendments that target Obama's immigration actions. The amendments would, among other things, restrict the administration from using any money to carry out Obama's 2012 action granting deferred action to children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country when they were young. Similar funding restrictions would target the executive action and the administration's relaxation of priorities for which immigrants should be kicked out of the country, outlined in a series of memos from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

The bill will also appropriate cash for DHS—which is currently funded only through Feb. 28—through the end of the fiscal year.

There had been trepidation among some in leadership that if amendments came to the floor, conservatives would vote for certain amendments, but turn their backs on the underlying bill. But Rep. Dennis Ross, a member of the whip team, said the vote-counters have been working with their members to ensure that does not happen. Leaders hope including provisions that go further than targeting just the latest executive action will ensure broad conservative support.

"We'll do amendments on the floor," Ross said exiting Scalise's office. "Allowing [lawmakers] to have an opportunity to address the amendments actually garners more support for the underlying bill regardless of what happens to the amendment."

As evidence, Rep. Steve King, an outspoken immigration foe who has been one of leadership's toughest critics, said he is on board with the plan. King is among the members who have previously proposed their own plans to halt Obama's executive action to provide temporary deportation deferrals and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants.

"There's been good, good constructive dialogue on putting a bill together, and I think a lot of us—myself included—are in general agreement," King said, exiting Scalise's office. "I'm hopeful. It's Friday. So, It would be a good idea to get that out so we're actually talking about a bill—a real bill—and I kind of expect that will be the case."

Some Republicans are not on board with the plan.

"I'm certainly not happy with the current status of the bill," said California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, who voted against repealing DACA in August. "We've got to deal with immigration—immigration as a whole—reforming our system across the nation. Just picking on the children that came here, no fault of their own, I think is the wrong way to start."

Others, who support repealing DACA, say using narrow language may be the easiest way to keep the Republican party together.

"There's a lot of different interests that are represented, and I'm very aware of that," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who offered language that will comprise one of the bill's amendments. "It is one of the reasons that strategically I supported a more rifle-shot approach, but again there are other folks in there that want to go after other things the President has done previously, including DACA, and I respect that as well."

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers stressed the importance of acting early, and noted that Republicans will try to make the case that if Obama vetoes the DHS bill, he will be putting national security at risk.

"We want to get it over with, we want to send a bill to the Senate, let them work their will on it and that may take some time. We want to get this to the president's desk so that we can get a signature funding Homeland Security at a very [tenuous] time in the world," Rogers said. "I would wonder whether the president would have real deep misgivings about not signing a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security"

House and Senate Republicans will meet in Hershey, Pa., next week at a joint retreat to discuss their next steps. Rep. Raul Labrador said it is important for his colleagues to be realistic in knowing this is an opening offer, not the finished product.

"This is a great first step, but we have to think about what the next step is going to be. We have to be very clear about that we're going to get a very different product out of the Senate, if we can get something out of the Senate," he said. "We need to think about how are we going to draw a line in the sand so the president understands that he's putting the nation's national security at risk."