Homeland Security funded for one more week
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In what is becoming a common ritual on Capitol Hill — a scrambled Friday night vote as members planned to head home — Congress temporarily averted a midnight shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
After earlier efforts to keep the agency open exploded in the faces of House Republican leadership, the House followed the Senate in passing a one-week funding bill. The agency won’t immediately have to furlough non-essential employees, and lawmakers have more time to seek a permanent funding deal.
The biggest obstacle to continued funding of the agency is conservative ire at President Obama's executive order on immigration. They sought to tie DHS funding to restricting that executive action.
The weeklong reprieve passed the House 357 to 60.
It was a temporary and messy solution to a problem that has vexed legislators for more than a month. An earlier version of the legislation that would have funded DHS for three weeks imploded in real time just hours before, in a 203 to 224 late-afternoon vote.
Speaker John A. Boehner underestimated the bill's support in his party, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi refused to offer him a lifeline from her own caucus.
And so, conservatives and Democrats joined together with polarized motives to defeat the earlier plan.
Several hours later, the Senate passed a measure to fund DHS for seven more days. Boehner got the break he needed around 9 p.m., when Pelosi signaled her support for the plan to the Democratic Caucus.
The Texas GOP delegation was uncharacteristically split on the earlier vote, and many didn't do their leadership any favors.
Fourteen Texas Republicans backed the three-week extension. Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Austin, voted for the measure, along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, who represents the most contested district in the state.
Eleven Republicans opposed the bill, including U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who launched a long-shot challenge to Speaker John Boehner in January.
Ten Texas Democrats followed their own leadership guidance and opposed the bill. U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, did not vote.
House conservatives remain furious with Obama's order that would shield about 5 million undocumented immigrants, including some 1.46 million in Texas, from deportation. The House earlier had passed its own DHS funding bill that stripped the executive action. But Senate Democrats blocked the upper chamber from considering that bill.
On the other side of the aisle, House Democrats are seething over what they perceive as conservative attempts to hold traditionally routine legislation — this time involving national security — hostage to far right doctrine. The DHS includes the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Coast Guard, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and several additional offices.
The result on Friday afternoon was not just uncertainty over whether the department woukd be funded past midnight, but a serious blow to Boehner and his leadership team.
A DHS shutdown, if it ever comes, won't mean the borders go unchecked or the international ports would be unstaffed and shut down. But it would mean that about 15 percent of the department's non-essential employees would be furloughed. Employees whose jobs are “essential” to the safety of the nation would work, but not get paid until the stalemate is resolved.
When the government shut down temporarily in 2013, about 31,300 DHS employees were furloughed and more than 85 percent of DHS employees still showed up for work, the Washington Post reported.
That includes the 18,150 Border Patrol agents on the southwest border, which includes about 3,065 and 1,785 in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo sectors, respectively. There are also 2,530 and 1,540 in the El Paso and Del Rio sectors, according to CBP statistics.
With the threat of a shutdown still hanging, nerves are frayed and tempers have already flared.
“At this point we’re sick and tired, we’re fed up,” said Border Patrol Agent Stu Harris, the vice president of the local 1929 of the National Border Patrol Council in El Paso. “It was back in October of 2013 we had to go through the same thing.”
But Harris said this time around it’s just DHS, not the whole federal government, which makes matters worse for morale.
“Now it’s just us. We’re essentially being used as political pawns,” he said. “It’s ironic that Congress is still in D.C. not doing its job and still getting paid. Our agents are out in the field doing their job and not getting paid.”