Senate At Impasse On DHS Funding As Shutdown Looms

WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday held a redo of its vote to move toward funding the Department of Homeland Security and blocking the president's deportation relief -- and the vote failed again.

The vote was the second in as many days on funding the department, which will run out of money on Feb. 27. This time, the vote tally was 53 to 47, with 60 votes needed to move forward.

It showed that with mere weeks to go until the deadline, the parties are no closer to a compromise. Senate Democrats proved they can remain united in favor of a "clean" bill without immigration-related measures. Republicans reiterated they don't want to pass anything without those riders, and will vote on the measure again this week. For now, there's no end in sight to the gridlock.

Republicans' hope on Wednesday was that they could pick up the Democrats who said last year that President Barack Obama should not take executive actions on immigration. The president ended up delaying his actions until after the election, and then announced in late November plans to expand deportation relief and work authorization to some undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children and legal permanent residents. He also expanded his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, that does the same for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

Republicans vehemently oppose the policies, and say they are an unconstitutional overreach that must be stopped. The House voted last month to fund DHS while blocking Obama's immigration executive actions, and received a veto threat. But the Senate is moving forward anyway. This week, Republicans called on the Democrats who previously said they were uncomfortable with the actions to join them, or at least team up with them on the procedural vote to move forward so amendments could be considered.

But the Democrats in question didn't bite. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who said in November she was "not crazy about" the idea of Obama taking executive action on immigration, maintained Wednesday that the issue needed to be considered separately from DHS funding.

"The very next day, after we pass a clean homeland security bill, we can take up whatever immigration bill they want to take up," she said of Republicans. "They're in charge. So this notion that they have to hook it on this bill is fantasy. They can do it any time they want to do it."

Two other Democrats who opposed Obama taking executive action on immigration, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), also told reporters on Wednesday that they want a clean DHS funding bill.

A centrist Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, offered a potential solution to the gridlock in the form of an amendment that would strip the measure ending DACA from the House-passed bill. She told reporters she was talking to Democrats about the amendment, and would be "disappointed" if they refused to move forward.

"All I can do is try to put forth a proposal that reflects my own personal views and that I think might be a way out of this impasse," she said before the vote. "Nobody else seems to be presenting a way out of the impasse, so I thought I'd try."

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who voted with Democrats against moving forward on Tuesday, told reporters earlier Wednesday that he could support Collins' plan, but would prefer to have it in a separate bill. He again joined Democrats on the second vote to block the House-passed DHS bill.

Senators from both parties attended a lunch together just before the vote to talk about how they can work together better, but they said they did not discuss the DHS bill, which is shaping up to be among the strongest partisan divides this year. Democrats say Republicans might shut down DHS over a desire to deport more people, while Republicans say Democrats are threatening the department just to protect the president's "amnesty."

Things may be even worse in the House, where some Republicans are saying it wouldn't be "the end of the world" to shut down DHS for a short time. House Republicans are planning to take legal action against the president's immigration executive actions.

In the Senate, some Republicans have left wiggle room to compromise on DHS funding, particularly given their vows to keep the department open. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he could not support a clean DHS funding bill "at this time." But he said he hoped the House would "understand our constraints" in the Senate. Although Republicans hold a majority, they need six Democratic votes to get past a filibuster.

Asked how many times he expects the Senate will vote on the House-passed DHS bill, McCain laughed.

"Is that the definition of insanity? Voting on the same bill over and over again?" he said. "I don't know. I don't know. I really don't know. We're having endless conversations about it."

All three former DHS secretaries -- two Republicans and one Democrat -- urged Congress last week to pass a clean DHS funding bill, and were joined Wednesday by the the U.S. Conference of Mayors.