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Homeland Security Funding Bill Caught Up In House


The clock is still ticking. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out in a matter of hours. And so far, lawmakers have been unable to pass legislation to avert a partial agency shutdown. A bill that would have provided three weeks of funding for the department failed in the House, with more than 50 Republicans voting against it. NPR's Juana Summers joins us from Capitol Hill with the latest. And Juana, can you remind us how things got to this point.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: This is all about immigration. Republicans object to the president's immigration policies, and the vehicle they've chosen to change those is the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Tonight, House leaders tried to pass a bill that would have funded the Department for three weeks. Their thinking - it would give them more time to fight the president's executive actions on immigration, since a federal judge has already put them on hold. But that argument was not convincing to a number of conservatives who say they won't vote for any bill funding the Homeland Security Department unless it includes language blocking the president on immigration.

SIEGEL: Well, what are the possible ways out of this now?

SUMMERS: So right now Boehner has a few options, and none of these are quite good for the speaker. One would be to bring a clean, full year DHS funding bill to the floor for a vote. The Senate has already passed one, and it's clear that House Democrats would get behind that. But even so, Boehner has no guarantee that he could get the 30 Republicans he needs in order to pass it. The House could also try to pass an even shorter funding bill tonight, maybe just one week or perhaps shorter. And if that fails, the department runs out of money at midnight. And what that means is most DHS employees are considered essential personnel, so they have to keep working but they wouldn't get a paycheck until all of this is straightened out on the Hill.

SIEGEL: Well, it sounds like Speaker of the House Boehner is in a jam. Are there larger implications for him in this breakdown today?

SUMMERS: There absolutely are. Republicans put this vote off late last year because they were banking on a bigger majority in the House and control of the Senate. And they got both of those things and yet here we are. They don't have the votes to stop the president's immigration policy, and right now they don't have the votes to fund the Department of Homeland Security. I think that there are real challenges ahead for Speaker Boehner. There are a good number of conservative Republicans who will be absolutely furious if Speaker Boehner brings a clean bill to the floor, one that means that does not address immigration. They see that as surrender and I think there's a good chance that they try to push back against him if he does that.

SIEGEL: Well, are there any risks for the Democrats in all of this?

SUMMERS: Well, they did just vote against a three week extension. If the doomsday scenario happens, the department runs out of funding at midnight and there's no solution, they are now on record voting against a short-term fix. And with elections around the corner, that probably doesn't look very good for them either.

SIEGEL: So at the beginning of the day, you're saying, three weeks was a short-term fix, but by the standards of the evening, it seems that's now a longer term fix.

SUMMERS: It absolutely does. When we had this vote on the House floor earlier, it took quite a long time. I think it was open for about 45 minutes. It seems that they've been debating to fund the Department of Homeland Security for less time than that. So it'll be really interesting to see how this plays out in the hours to come.

SIEGEL: That's congressional reporter Juana Summers. Funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to expire at midnight. Juana, thanks.

SUMMERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.