WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders eager to avert a partial government shutdown are getting heat from conservative colleagues who ask what the fuss is all about.
Numerous House Republicans say it’s preferable to let the Homeland Security Department go unfunded for a few days, at least, if that’s the cost of undoing a White House immigration policy they consider unlawful. These lawmakers say the impact on national security would be minimal, as would the political risks.
“Shutting down” the agency known as DHS “is a set of words that don’t really have the meaning that people attribute to it,” said Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama. “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 GOP leaders have vowed not to repeat.
Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa was equally dismissive.
“We’re never going to see a shutdown over this,” King told reporters Thursday. DHS’s “essential services” will continue, he said, although “some paychecks may be delayed.”
“Look at the price that was paid for a Constitution and a rule of law,” King said. “Can you explain to the people that are in their graves in Arlington (National Cemetery) that we don’t want to delay some paychecks, we’re going to sacrifice the Constitution?”
King and others say President Barack Obama violated the Constitution with an executive order protecting millions of immigrants, here illegally, from deportation. A House-passed bill would fund DHS beyond Friday only if the order is reversed.
Senate Democrats blocked the bill. Now GOP Senate leaders, and some prominent House Republicans, say it’s time to fund the Homeland Security Department and fight the deportation issue in the courts.
Staunch conservatives disagree. If a DHS shutdown lasts a week or less, “I don’t think it’s damaging at all,” said Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina. “The American people are still upset that the president exceeded his constitutional authority” on immigration, Jones said. “Most people know that the majority of the employees are going to continue to work.”
Republican Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio said, “We’re ready to fund everything else except that illegal action.” That’s a reasonable stand, he said, but in the news media “we’ll be allegedly the people that shut down the government.”
Playing down a DHS funding lapse dismays some senior House Republicans.
“Politically, it’s devastating,” said Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who withstood a tea party challenger last year. Fairly or not, he said, Democrats will accuse Republicans of weakening homeland security at a time of heightened terrorist threats.
Democrats aren’t waiting. “It’s a disgrace that ISIS and al-Shabab are fully funded, but thanks to Republican game-playing, the Department of Homeland Security might not be,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said this week.
ISIS is a name for the self-described Islamic State militant group. The Somalian militant group al-Shabab has called for attacks on Western shopping malls.
A DHS “shutdown” actually would do little to dent America’s defenses. Front-line employees at Customs and Border Patrol, the Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration would continue to work. So would air marshals and Coast Guard patrols.
Of the department’s 230,000 employees, about 200,000 would be deemed essential and continue to work. But most would go unpaid until the dispute ends. And hiring and much training and research would stop.
Republican Rep. Kenny Marchant of Texas said his constituents “have been told everybody’s going to be declared essential.” He said they want Obama’s deportation order overturned, even if DHS funding lapses.
GOP Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana agrees. A partial DHS shutdown “may be an outcome, but that’s not a goal,” he said. Democrats are pushing the DHS question to the brink, Fleming said, but “we all know the media will blame Republicans.”
Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma says these hard-core conservatives are playing a dangerous game. Now that a federal judge in Texas has halted action on Obama’s deportation order, he said, “it’s time to declare victory and go home.”
“We ought to be talking about Homeland Security in ways that highlight the president’s failures overseas,” Cole said, and not “whether we’re going to shut it down.”
He said polls show most Americans dislike both Obama’s deportation order and the notion of blocking DHS funding. “So why don’t we leave them with the president who’s done something most people don’t like, instead of us going and doing something most people don’t like, just to sort of make the score even?” Cole said.
If Republicans think they’ll avoid serious political damage from even a temporary and partial DHS shutdown, said Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina, “they’re whistling in the dark.”
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said that if there’s a terror attack in the United States during a partial DHS shutdown, “politically it’s going to kill us.”
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.
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