WASHINGTON — Congress ended its seven-week impasse on funding the Department of Homeland Security as the House voted Tuesday to pass a $40 billion spending bill that does not derail President Obama's immigration programs.
The 257-167 vote prevents a partial shutdown of the agency, which was set to run out of money at midnight Friday. The bill funds the department through Sept. 30. The Senate approved the bill last week, and Obama is poised to sign it into law.
Immigration hardliners were angry that the bill did not contain provisions to bar funding to carry out Obama's executive orders to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The House passed a bill in mid-January that would have defunded those orders, which also allow some undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits.
"I believe this is a sad day for America," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who called Obama's actions unconstitutional. "If we're not going to fight now, when are we going to fight?"
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told his GOP caucus Tuesday morning that it was clear that Senate Democrats would continue to block the House bill and he did not want to let the Department of Homeland Security shut down.
Republican leaders said during debate on the House floor Tuesday that there was little choice left but to pass the Senate bill.
"It is clear that the bill before us...is the only way forward to prevent a potentially devastating shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
The House bill was repeatedly filibustered by Senate Democrats in support of the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ultimately relented, and the Senate approved a funding bill free of immigration riders last week. McConnell leads a 54-member Republican majority but needs 60 votes to stop a filibuster.
House Republicans initially rejected the Senate bill, and conservatives thwarted a Boehner-led plan to pass a three-week short-term spending measure last Friday. The discord led to both chambers approving a late-night stop-gap bill to fund the department through this Friday to avert a shutdown.
The House could have passed another short-term funding measure, but Boehner, according to a GOP aide, told Republicans in a private meeting Tuesday morning that the option was not a viable path forward given "more active threats coming into the homeland."
"I believe this decision — considering where we are — is the right one for this team, and the right one for this country," Boehner told his fellow Republicans.
Simpson said Republicans can take heart in the fact that Obama's executive actions have been stopped, at least temporarily, by a federal court judge in Texas. The administration has challenged that ruling.
"That's where we should focus our efforts," said Simpson, referring to the courts.
But Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said House Republicans should not not have given up the fight to stop Obama's executive orders through legislation. He said he viewed the battle as one to preserve the separation of powers between Congress and the White House.
"Any person who votes for this deal today is voting to cede some of our power to the executive branch," Labrador said.
Other Republicans said it was time to end the DHS funding crisis and move on.
"It's time for us to move forward and demonstrate our ability to govern to the American people," said Rep. Charles Dent, R-Penn.
House Democrats, knowing they had won the battle, said almost nothing during Tuesday's floor debate.