The news that a Texas judge has blocked President Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportation is producing headlines suggesting that Republicans have suddenly got a big boost in their showdown with Democrats over funding for the Department of Homeland Security.
But the reality is this: For the time being, at least, nothing significant has changed. Republican leaders still need to decide whether they are going to agree to fund the Department of Homeland Security cleanly, while dropping their effort to use DHS funding as leverage to roll back Obama’s actions. And if they do decide to do that, they will still need Democratic support to get it through the House, which would enrage conservatives.
Senate Democratic leadership aides insist they are confident Senate Dems will continue to maintain their filibuster next week, when Senate GOP leaders try once again to hold a vote on the proposal, passed by the GOP-controlled House, to fund Homeland Security while rolling back Obama’s actions.
Today Republicans seized on the Texas court ruling to call on Senate Democrats to drop their filibuster. Their focus is on a handful of moderate Democrats who have previously expressed discomfort with Obama’s executive actions, but have nonetheless voted to sustain a filibuster of the GOP effort to tie their rollback to Homeland Security funding. But Democratic leaders have been in touch with some of these Senators and see no signs they will change their stance in large enough numbers to matter, aides say.
“This doesn’t change anything,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me. “Everyone knew this judge would rule this way, and initial calls reveal no wobbliness whatsoever.” This aide adds that the GOP strategy of calling for yet another vote on this next week — after forcing three previous votes on it — is only further “entrenching our members.”
A second Democratic leadership aide tells me that it would be folly for Democrats to change their strategy now, given that it’s perfectly possible the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals could reverse the injunction. This aide also notes that even moderate Democrats are dug in against the tactic Republicans are using — staging a shutdown fight to force a policy change — a stance that is unlikely to be altered by the lower court ruling.
“We’re several layers of the onion away from a final court ruling,” this aide says. “You do not tie fights over policy to agency funding — period. That’s not a game our guys are going to play.” The aide adds that moderates “have been with us every time on this because they believe ransom for keeping the government open is not a game they will play even if they are not crazy about the underlying policy.”
Now, we need to hear directly from these moderates — Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, and Angus King — before knowing for sure where they stand. Perhaps they will be more worried than these aides suggest about the politics of siding with Obama, now that a court has ruled against the administration, and perhaps they will be tempted to join with Republicans in voting to end the Democratic filibuster.
But today, Senator Chuck Schumer suggested in a statement that no Democrat would change course:
“This procedural ruling, in our opinion, is very unlikely to be upheld, but regardless of the outcome Democrats remain united in our belief that funding for the Department of Homeland Security should not be used as a ransom by Republicans, period.”
Six Senators would have to change their position for the GOP to prevail over that filibuster. And even if that did happen, Obama would still veto the House GOP bill. While forcing Obama to veto the measure would constitute a win of sorts for Republicans, it would still lead right back to where we are now: Republicans would have to decide whether to fund DHS cleanly, which would require the House passing funding with the help of a lot of Democrats, or risk taking the blame for DHS shutting down.
To be sure, the 5th Circuit could eventually uphold the injunction on Obama’s actions. That would be a big victory for Republicans. But even if that remains a possibility, it still may not provide an immediate exit from the current mess. We may not get a decision from the 5th Circuit for several weeks. National Journal reports that some Republicans are privately suggesting that the party should not fund DHS cleanly until they are sure of how the 5th Circuit will rule. But the funding deadline for DHS is coming up at the end of the month — possibly before any such ruling comes.
What this appears to mean is that the Texas court ruling doesn’t change the fact that — for now, anyway — we’re still in the middle of a good, old fashioned shutdown fight. Today’s CNN poll finding that a majority would blame Republicans over Obama for any such shutdown — by 53-30 — once again shows that shutdown fights institutionally favor presidents over Congresses. Republicans now control both chambers, making it harder still for them to dodge blame, and they are in the position of trying to explain why a fight over funding Homeland Security should be connected to an argument with Obama over immigration policy. Also, what probably will matter most politically for 2016 about this fight is the impression of the two parties it ends up leaving among Latinos.
UPDATE: The statement just in from Dem Senate leader Harry Reid:
“President Obama is well within his established Constitutional authority and the legal process will bear that out. The only effect of this ruling is to delay justice for thousands of families in Nevada and across the country. Governors, mayors and law enforcement officers have emphasized that these programs are good public policy, help our economy and keep our communities safe.
“Courts are only involved in the first place because Republicans have spent years blocking Congress from fixing our broken immigration system. Congress should live up to its responsibility and pass an immigration bill that secures our borders, keeps families together and provides an earned path to citizenship.
“There is nothing stopping the Senate from debating immigration legislation immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate is mired in a completely avoidable impasse over funding the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Democrats have a simple solution for getting out of this jam: take up and pass a clean bill to fund Homeland Security, then move on to a robust debate on immigration legislation.
“Democrats’ offer to first fund Homeland Security and then debate immigration stands. All Republicans have to do is say yes.”