The House has passed a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security in its entirety through the remainder of the fiscal year, ending with a whimper, not a bang, a weeks-long standoff over House Republicans’ efforts to defund President Obama’s executive amnesty.
That cannot come as much surprise. Republican leaders never showed much commitment to making a sustained public case against the president’s executive amnesty, and their public lack of enthusiasm was bound to create suspicions among, and exacerbate tensions with, grassroots conservatives infuriated by the president’s distaste for constitutional limits on executive power.
This lack of interest was compounded by tactical errors. House Republicans’ nearly unanimous approval of amendments tying DHS funding to undoing three years of President Obama’s immigration policies was an implausible strategy when, unfortunately, some of those policies are popular or well entrenched. It always made more sense to focus on the latest and starkest constitutional outrage, last year’s executive amnesty.
The congressional GOP also seemed to leap from plan to plan, at times even suggesting that mounting their own new lawsuit against the president would be just the trick — as if Congress itself doesn’t have a duty to police the constitutional order. (A lawsuit from objecting states has resulted in a stay of the executive amnesty, but, alas, it seems unlikely to stand.) Hysteria from some of the usual GOP suspects in the Senate about the effects of a DHS “shutdown” was unhelpful and, as a national-security matter, flat-out wrong, given how many DHS employees are deemed “essential.”
A better legislative strategy would have been to split the DHS bill in two, with one measure funding the department except for its immigration bureaucracy, and another one funding that bureaucracy but blocking it from implementing amnesty. Senate Democrats would have little reason to block, or the president to veto, the first measure. They would have balked at the second, likely leading to an impasse. Even without an appropriation, the amnesty would go through — the relevant bureaucracy is funded largely by fees, collected independently of congressional financing — but at least Republicans would have avoided any formal complicity in the president’s lawlessness.
Many House Republicans tried their best to avoid that. The 167 members who voted against the funding bill issued a sharp rebuke to House leadership, signaling forcefully that Speaker Boehner was out of step with his congressional majority, and with the majority of Republican voters.
The eagerness of so many House Republicans to resist the president’s amnesty was momentum on which House leaders could have built to construct a winning strategy and execute it. Instead, they needlessly surrendered to unconstitutional order.