WASHINGTON -- A House Republican effort to punt on Department of Homeland Security funding failed on the floor Friday, leaving the GOP leadership in a bind on whether to throw in the towel and pass a budget bill without immigration measures.
It's back to the drawing board with only hours to go until a DHS shutdown.
The vote failed 203 to 224, an embarrassing loss after Republican leadership had predicted they had the votes to get the three-week continuing resolution through. Fifty-two Republicans voted against funding DHS for even a matter of weeks without riders to block President Barack Obama's deportation relief and work authorization for undocumented immigrants.
House Democrats could have pushed the bill over the line, but most opposed it in hopes that its failure would force Republicans to fund the department for the full year, free of restrictive immigration measures.
GOP leaders were caught by surprise when it became clear that they lacked a significant chunk of support from their members. They scrambled around the chamber trying to assemble more votes -- to no avail.
As soon as the bill went down, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) left the floor to huddle with other members of leadership and hash out a way forward.
After the vote, Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who backed the short-term continuing resolution, said he had heard "rumblings" that there might not be sufficient support. But he had not anticipated that 52 Republicans would buck the party and sink the measure along with a majority of Democrats.
"This is a tough, tough, significant, emotional event for our conference right now," Womack said, adding that he sympathized with Boehner.
"I just can't imagine the frustration the speaker must have right now. He's in a vise. He's trying to please different factions in our caucus," Womack said. "This is the kind of time where you breathe a sigh of relief that you never ran for one of those leadership positions."
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) criticized those who voted against the stopgap funding bill for not having any clear objective.
"You can't say you want to fight and then not understand tactically how to fight," he said. "The 50 people who voted no are not only reckless, but they're in favor of Obama's amnesty."
Others argued that the leadership had set themselves up for failure by refusing to use the power of the purse to rein in Obama's immigration actions in December, when Congress passed an omnibus spending bill.
"I just simply have my differences with their approach and strategy on this," declared Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who declined to say if there should be a change in leadership. "Obviously we're not getting good results, are we? I base everything on results."
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said that given the widespread opposition to Obama's immigration policies among conservative hardliners, House GOP leaders should have known how the vote would play out "unless they were out of touch."
"I can't speak for everybody that voted the way they did today, but that is a large part of the vote today ... to say that the Constitution of the United States means something to some people," Jones said.
The Senate had approved a clean DHS funding bill earlier Friday in a 68-31 vote. The upper chamber chose to vote first on funding for the department and then work later on a bill to stop the president's 2014 executive actions on immigration.
The House elected earlier Friday to not pass the Senate's bill, but instead to try to go to conference to combine both chambers' measures. There's little room for compromise, however, and Senate Democratic leaders have firmly rejected the idea of going to conference.
House Republicans had discussed a short-term bill in part because they're waiting to see how a lawsuit against Obama's executive actions plays out in court -- although there was no guarantee there would be any legal developments in three weeks. A federal judge temporarily halted the disputed 2014 immigration programs from moving forward last week, and the Obama administration is seeking a stay of that order and an appeal. If an appeals court maintains the injunction, Republicans might be less wary of approving a full year of DHS funding without immigration measures.
Before the vote, some Republicans said they believed the judge's ruling was reason enough to pass a clean funding bill, pointing out that the courts had already moved in their favor by blocking Obama's actions from going into effect.
"I think this is actually a little bit of a sideshow. The decisive arena is going to be the courts," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a top ally of Boehner's, said ahead of the vote. "The play is, he's lost in court -- we haven't, he has. The courts have stopped him from something he said he was going to do."
There were other considerations as well. A House GOP leadership aide said before the vote that Republicans were reluctant to draw attention away from next week's congressional address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The aide also said the temporary fix would have given them more time to pressure red-state Democrats in the Senate, some of whom have criticized the president's actions, to agree to immigration measures in a longer-term DHS bill.
The plan was for the House to approve the three-week funding bill and then leave town for the weekend. Now, the fate of DHS funding is uncertain.
On Friday evening, senators from both parties urged House Republicans to throw in the towel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN's "The Situation Room" that he believes House Democrats should cooperate in the final hours to keep DHS open. But eventually, he said, House Republicans need to accept that the bill they want isn't going to get to the president.
"I hope my colleagues in the House will abandon this desire to shut down DHS as a way to repeal the executive order," Graham said. "I don't think it's going to work. We don't have the votes in the Senate. Let the court act."
UPDATE: 8:25 p.m. -- The Senate quickly approved a one-week continuing resolution on Friday evening to send to the House in a late attempt to prevent a shutdown. House Republicans have been told to expect votes on Friday evening, but no word on when or what exactly they will be.