Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Mike McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, stopped by CNN to chat with Wolf Blitzer about the horrifying terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Their discussion wasn’t especially interesting – there was so little concrete information available about the attack that they were confined to speculation and guesswork about the motives and affiliations of the attackers – until the very end, when Blitzer asked McCaul about immigration.
As you’ll probably recall, Congress passed a funding bill in the lame-duck session that meted out a year’s worth of appropriations for most government agencies, but not the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for DHS only runs through February, at which point it will have to be renewed. The reason they did this was so Republicans could pick a fight with President Obama and force him to rescind his executive actions granting deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants. “Undo those actions,” they’ll argue, “or the agency responsible for implementing them will be defunded.”
With a gruesome terrorist attack dominating the headlines, Blitzer’s question was straightforward: “the Department of Homeland Security, is only funded, what, through February. Are they going to get the money they need to protect the American people?”
McCaul’s answer? Yes.
MCCAUL: I met the secretary this afternoon. We had a good meeting. Our goal is to keep the department open, and we also, as I said before, shut down the executive action.
BLITZER: On immigration reform?
BLITZER: So in other words, you're not going to fund the Department of Homeland Security unless the president backs away from his unilateral executive action on immigration?
MCCAUL: Our leadership, and I just got out of the meeting and had discussions about how to proceed forward. We want to stop this executive action, but I think the responsible individuals like myself have no desire to shut down this department. It's too important to the national security interest of the United States.
BLITZER: If you don't fund the Department of Homeland Security and all of those agencies there, Americans are going to be at risk.
MCCAUL: I think this incident today highlights why that's necessary.
BLITZER: So you'll work out some deal, make sure the Department of Homeland Security stays in business?
I’m no expert in negotiating, but it seems to me that when you say at the outset that Republicans will agree to fund the agency because it’s “necessary” and the thing that “responsible individuals” would do, then you’ve pretty much given up the game.
And really, threatening to defund DHS over Obama’s immigration action doesn’t make a lot of sense, both as a matter of policy and politics. The specific agencies tasked with implementing Obama’s orders are funded mainly through the collection of fees and aren’t reliant upon the appropriations process. So cutting off the spigot to DHS will do nothing to actually stop the change in policy.
What it would do is create a massive political headache for the Republicans as they try and explain why they want to withhold funding for the agency responsible for safeguarding national security. The standard Republican ploy in these situations – to blame shutdowns, whole or partial, on the president’s refusal to accede to GOP demands – never, ever works. When shutdowns happen, Republicans get blamed. McCaul clearly understands this. He couldn’t treat funding for DHS as an open question while the world was fixated on the aftermath of a shocking terrorist attack in France. And so when asked if the agency would get its money, he offered the only reasonable response: yes.