No certain path to compromise as lawmakers joust over immigration, Homeland Security funding

Associated Press

Senate Republicans on Wednesday maneuvered to put Democrats on record again as opposing legislation that would fund the Homeland Security Department and overturn President Barack Obama's recent actions on immigration.

Obama countered by hosting an Oval Office meeting with a half-dozen young immigrants protected by his policies. The GOP legislation would subject Obama's visitors to eventual deportation.

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After the meeting, Obama accused Republicans of ignoring the "human consequences" of their legislation, and repeated his threat to veto the bill if it reached his desk.

The developments came a day after Senate Democrats united to defeat a procedural vote that would have opened debate on the House-passed Homeland Security measure. The bill would cover the department through Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year, and undo Obama's executive actions that limit deportations for millions of people who are in the United States illegally.

Senate Republican leaders had indicated that repeated votes on the measure were likely, an apparent attempt to show hard-liners among the House GOP that their bill cannot pass the Senate.

Senate leaders moved to make good on that Wednesday, setting up a likely re-vote in the afternoon, with more expected later in the week.

"You'd think a bill like this would pass overwhelmingly," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday as the maneuvering got underway.

Democrats responded that the measure would not, as long as it included the contested language on immigration. They called on McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to strip off the immigration provisions and act on legislation limited to paying for the department at a time of global threats.

"What the majority leader should do is to swallow his pride, call Mr. Boehner and say, 'Your idea is not going to fly in the Senate,'" said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

House conservatives sounded like they might to need more convincing.

"That was our best offer, and that's what we expect," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.

He said that if Congress fails to act before current agency funding expires Feb. 27, "it's obviously not the end of the world" because many department employees would be deemed essential and keep on working even if some functions shut down.

Salmon's view was in the minority, however. Most agreed that Congress would find a way to approve the funding, even if it meant passing a short-term extension ahead of the deadline before coming up with a final deal.

How and when lawmakers would get there was less clear in a new era of divided government. Republicans are in full control of Congress for the first time in eight years and Obama is ready to issue vetoes.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats united against a procedural vote that would have opened debate on the House-passed bill.

Fifty-one Republicans voted to advance the bill, short of the 60 needed, while all 44 Democrats, two independents and two Republicans were opposed.

The two GOP opponents were Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, whose state is home to a large Latino population, and McConnell, whose vote permitted him to call for a revote.

House Republicans were casting about for another solution, such as splitting up the funding bill, Salmon said. He said a lawsuit over Obama's immigration actions, as Boehner has said is possible, would not satisfy conservatives.

In the Senate, Republicans including moderate Susan Collins of Maine were looking for a way out.

Collins said she was working with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and others on alternate legislation to fund the department and roll back the new administration policies limiting deportations, but keeping in place protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

"I think it's a good solution and a way to resolve an impasse that has the potential to cause some real harm," Collins said in an interview.