WASHINGTON — Congress is looking to at least delay a partisan fight over immigration that threatens to partially shut down the Department of Homeland Security at midnight Feb. 27.
But Republican leaders continue to take heat from more conservative colleagues who wonder what the fuss is all about and the dispute has highlighted the limits of the Republicans’ power despite having control of both house of Congress.
A shutdown of the agency with major anti-terrorism responsibilities actually would do little to dent America’s defenses. About 90 percent of the department’s 230,000 employees would be deemed essential and continue to work.
But most workers would go unpaid until the dispute ends and the shutdown would allow Democrats to accuse Republicans of weakening homeland security at a time of heightened terrorist threats.
On Feb. 26, House Republicans sounded a retreat, agreeing to push short-term funding for the agency while leaving in place Obama Administration immigration policies they have vowed to repeal.
With directives issued in 2012 and earlier this year, Obama largely eliminated the threat of deportation for more than 4 million immigrants who entered the country illegally, something Republicans charge violates the Constitution.
Republicans said legislation to provide funding for Homeland Security for three weeks would be put to a vote in the House on Feb. 27. Senate Democratic officials indicated they would agree to it, and predicted Obama would sign the measure, averting the partial shutdown.
Outlining a second step in their revised strategy, Rep. Dennis Ross said House Republicans would also seek negotiations with the Senate on a spending bill to fund the agency until the Sept. 30 end of the budget year while also rolling back President Barack Obama’s immigration directives.
The proposal under consideration by House Republicans marked a retreat from their longstanding insistence that no money be approved for Homeland Security as long as the immigration directives remained in place.
Still, numerous House Republicans say it’s preferable to let the Homeland Security Department go unfunded for a few days. These lawmakers say the impact on national security would be minimal, as would the political risks.
“Shutting down” the agency “is a set of words that don’t really have the meaning that people attribute to it,” said Rep. Mo Brooks. “There was hardly any effect whatsoever on the Department of Homeland Security from the last shutdown, and I would anticipate a similar effect this time.”
Brooks was referring to the 2013 partial federal government shutdown that Americans blamed mostly on Republicans, and which many Republican leaders have vowed not to repeat.
Playing down a funding lapse, however, dismays some senior House Republicans.
“Politically, it’s devastating,” said Rep. Mike Simpson. Fairly or not, he said, Democrats will accuse Republicans of weakening homeland security at a time of heightened terrorist threats.
Associated Press writers David Espo, Erica Werner, Charles Babington, Andrew Taylor and Laurie Kellman contributed to this story.