Fanning out across Sunday morning's talk shows, the top three House Republican leaders sought to portray Friday's embarrassing defeat of a Department of Homeland Security funding bill as the result of a dispute over the "tactics" of how to combat the president's executive orders on immigration — not as a sign of a more profound divide between conservative and moderate GOP factions.
"We do have some members who disagree from time to time over the tactics that we decide to employ," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday on "Face the Nation." "But remember Republicans are united in this idea that the president has far exceeded his constitutional authority, and we all want to do things to stop the president from his illicit activities."
"We get in an argument over tactics from time to time," he reiterated. "The goals are all the same."
Meanwhile, on "Meet the Press," Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) struck much the same note when asked to react to the provocative suggestion, from moderate Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in the Los Angeles Times, that Friday's floor failure was driven by "a small group of phony conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama's lawlessness."
"We have a difference of opinion in strategy and tactics, but in principle we are united," McCarthy said. "We are united in the principle there's a right way and wrong way to legislate. Unfortunately, the president chose the wrong way."
Facing a midnight deadline, Boehner wanted his fellow Republicans on Friday to support a three-week extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security in order to continuing battling President Obama's executive orders to expand pathways to legal status for illegal immigrants. But the vote failed after 52 Republicans sided with the vast majority of House Democrats to defeat the measure.
It was a particularly embarrassing defeat for Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who won a leadership position last year in part because of the expectation that he could bring the House's most conservative members behind Boehner on key votes such as this one.
On "Fox News Sunday," Scalise faced pointed questions from host Chris Wallace about his failure to deliver the votes of "Freedom Caucus" Republicans to Boehner.
"You are the tea party favorite, if you will, who joined the leadership with the assurance that you were going to be able to bring more conservative members to back the leadership. You're also, as the House whip, the person who's supposed to count the votes," Wallace said. "You were defeated, and defeated basically by your own caucus — 52 Republicans. What happened?"
Scalise, who spoke Sunday morning before Boehner and McCarthy, also pointed to a divide on "tactics" rather than a more fundamental rift.
"Obviously, our members have a lot of differences on how maybe we want to go about tactics, but our goal is the same," he said. "Our goal is to fight this president's illegal actions on immigration, and we're now in a position to force the Senate to go to a conference committee, which is what we wanted to do all along last week."
A DHS shutdown was averted Friday after the House and the Senate agreed on a one-week funding extension; House Democrats supported that measure after leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) assured them that "we will vote for full funding next week."
Scalise said "there is no such deal" to bring a full-year "clean" funding bill to the House floor without immigration provisions.
Said Boehner, "The promise I made to Ms. Pelosi is the same promise I made to Republicans — that we would follow regular order. ... We want to go to conference with the Senate."
House Republicans are pressing the Senate to negotiate on a compromise DHS funding bill, but Senate Democrats have said that there is no compromise to be had on full funding for the department. Democrats are expected to block a move Monday to enter negotiations with the House, using their power as the minority party in a bid to force the House to take up a clean bill.
McCarthy suggested Sunday that Democrats were obstructing a solution, noting that four Democrats joined 53 Republicans in voting Friday to proceed with a bill that would overturn Obama's most recent immigration orders. He also suggested, when prompted by "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might invoke the "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules to allow debate to proceed without the requisite 60 votes.
Senate rules have already been changed to require only a simple majority to allow confirmations of judicial nominees and executive appointments to proceed. But other legislation, such as the DHS funding bill and the separate bill to overturn the immigration orders, remains subject to a 60-vote hurdle.
"That's not nuclear when 57 percent of the American representation says [the Obama immigration orders are] wrong," McCarthy said. "That's not in the Constitution. I think they should change the rule."
Left unsaid: Even if Senate rules were changed to pave way for disapproval of Obama's immigration actions, 57 Senate votes would not be enough to override a presidential veto.
Scalise did not discuss a Senate rule change but called on opponents of the immigration actions to "make those Senate Democrats feel the heat" in the next 36 hours or so.
"What I would encourage is, anybody who disagrees with the president's illegal action on immigration, like I do, light up the Senate switchboard between now and Monday evening, when they take that vote, and put the heat on Senate Democrats to stop blocking this," he said.
Scalise also declined to entertain speculation that Boehner's job as speaker could be in peril should the House capitulate on the DHS funding battle.
"We had this vote just a few weeks ago, and that vote's over," he said, referring to the Jan. 6 leadership ballot. "He's speaker, he's going forward, and he's working hard to get our agenda moved through the House."
"Face the Nation" host John Dickerson asked Boehner whether he enjoyed his job as speaker.
"On most days," the speaker replied. "Friday wasn't a whole lot of fun. But most days."
Asked to elaborate, Boehner said Friday "was just messy, and I'm not into messy."
"But, listen, I enjoy being in a legislative body," he continued. "I enjoy all the personalities and I've got a lot of 'em."