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Opinion Morning Plum: After terror attack, GOP rethinks showdown over Homeland Security

At a news conference on Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner addressed the shooting attack that left at least 12 dead at a satirical newspaper in Paris. (Video: AP)

In the wake of the horrific terror attack in France, there are fresh signs this morning that Republicans are rethinking whether to stage a confrontation around funding of the Department of Homeland Security (which funds immigration enforcement) to block President Obama’s executive action shielding millions from deportation.

If Republicans cave on this, it would be a very big deal: The battle against the action on deportations is widely seen on the right as a key test of whether Republican leaders are truly willing to stand up to Obama lawlessness.  However, I think it’s premature to believe that Republicans will roll over.

They are certainly sounding like their zeal for this confrontation has waned. Here’s GOP Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee:

“Our leadership and I just got out of the meeting and had discussions about how to proceed,” McCaul said on CNN’s “Situation Room” Wednesday night. “We want to stop this executive action, but I think the responsible individuals like myself have no desire to shut down this department. It’s too important to the national security interest of the United States.”
“I think this incident today highlights why that’s necessary,” he later added, referring to the attack by masked gunmen on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris, that killed 12 people. 
Asked if a deal will be worked out to keep the Department of Homeland Security open, McCaul replied, “Yes.”

Still, this doesn’t preclude House Republicans from making a stand. They can pass funding of the department, while attaching a measure that prohibits the use of funding specifically for carrying out Obama’s deportation relief, and claim that they are in fact funding the agency, while it is the President who is imposing the condition. That strategy, in fact, is currently being considered.

Senate Democrats would probably succeed in blocking such a measure, though that’s not assured, and at any rate, Obama can veto it. At that point, conservatives will chant in unison, again and again and again, that Obama would be the one shutting down Homeland Security in this scenario, and pressure from the right on GOP leaders not to fear the politics of this fight will probably be intense.

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At that point, we’d find out how far GOP leaders are really willing to take this. Taking them at their word that something will be worked out to fund the agency, one possibly way out for them might be to resort to a strategy they’ve used in previous confrontations. They could hold two separate votes — the first precluding funding for use in carrying out Obama’s policy, which would pass easily, and a second, separate measure cleanly funding DHS (how individual Republicans would vote on this is unclear, but it would pass the House). Dems could block the first and let the second go through. Conservatives, obviously, would angrily denounce this strategy as surrender.

By the way, even if it is looking very difficult for Republicans to block Obama’s action this way, it’s still perfectly possible that it could get held up in the courts.

At any rate, while the politics of a sustained Congressional confrontation over this are suddenly looking tougher for Republicans, the possibility of a whole lot of noisy drama around it is still very real.

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(Update: Above post edited for clarity.)

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* QUOTE OF THE DAY, SQUISHY FECKLESS RINO EDITION: Related to the above debate over how Republicans will block Obama’s action on deportation, here’s Mitch McConnell on the DHS funding strategy:

“At the end of the day, we’re going to fund the department.”

Remember: The Ted Cruz strategy of maximum confrontation can never fail; it can only be failed by feckless GOP leaders who are unwilling to see it through to the end.

* HOUSE GOP TO TARGET OBAMACARE: The House will vote today on a measure changing the definition of the employer mandate’s workweek so employers (of 50 employees and above) only must give coverage to those working 40 hours per week, as opposed to the law’s definition of 30. Republicans claim this will allow more people to work 40-hour weeks because fewer employers will shave hours to avoid the mandate.

But Erika Eichelberger explains why this could actually encourage employers to shave employees hours, since it’s a lot easier to cut hours to just below 40 than to below 30. And Robert Greenstein explains why this will boost the deficit and leave more people uninsured: More employees who currently work just below 40 hours will not get covered, driving them onto the exchanges or into Medicaid — for government-subsidized coverage. The CBO agrees.

* McCONNELL’S PRIVATE MESSAGE TO REPUBLICANS: The Hill reports that incoming Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has a stark message for fellow GOP Senators as to how to judge the success of the Senate GOP caucus:

“In every meeting, whether it’s with freshmen or others, McConnell’s message has been consistent. The only way we’re going to be relevant is by getting legislation to the president’s desk. That’s the best card we have,” said a GOP senator, who requested anonymity to discuss private meetings.

Another measure: What legislation can Republicans produce that lawmakers on both sides can support, given that there are areas (immigration, infrastructure spending) where Dems are ready to make concessions to reach compromise?

* GOP LOWERS BAR ON GOVERNING: E.J. Dionne runs through the first batch of proposals of the new GOP Congress, and finds them wanting, particularly the “dynamic scoring” maneuver designed to “rig the legislative playing field in favor of right-leaning policy.” Conclusion:

Just because Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say they want to avoid government shutdowns and debt-ceiling hostage-taking, they are to be regarded as heroes of sane policymaking. But if we’ve sunk so low that this is now the test of “governance,” we are still a long way from the real thing.

I would add we don’t even know yet whether they’ll avoid debt-ceiling hostage taking. We very well may be dragged through the motions of pretending Republicans have leverage on the debt limit before they agree to raise it.

* TEXAS TO CAVE ON MEDICAID EXPANSION??? Dylan Scott reports that Democrats in Texas are surprisingly optimistic about the possibility that the incoming GOP governor may be giving serious thought to opting into the Medicaid expansion. This would be huge, rendering the remaining holdouts far less important when it comes to the broader goal of expanding coverage:

Texas is the biggest “get” left for the program, which is expected to account for roughly half of the law’s health coverage expansion. More than 1 million people have been left without insurance under Obamacare because outgoing Gov. Rick Perry refused to expand Medicaid. That would make it a huge coup for ACA supporters: Texas accounts for about one-fourth of the Medicaid coverage gap nationwide.

Of course SCOTUS could still gut Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states on the federal exchange, so despite the law’s slow advance, enormous setbacks are still very possible.

 * ELIZABETH WARREN EMPHASIZES PERSONAL STORY: A nice catch by Nia Malika-Henderson: In a speech yesterday that was widely seen as a challenge to Hillary Clinton from the left that will color the 2016 Democratic primary, Elizabeth Warren told an anecdote about her mother’s minimum wage job that put a human stamp on her populism.

I’ll have more on this another time, but look for more of this sort of nostalgia for a time of more shared prosperity as a way of humanizing the debate over current runaway inequality.

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