After not one, not two but three unsuccessful attempts to get a Homeland Security bill through the Senate that also guts President Obama's immigration plan, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday it's time for a new strategy.
The problem is, there appears to be no workable alternative in sight.
Congress risks shutting down the Homeland Security Department on Feb. 28 unless new money is approved, but the standoff is expected to drag on as lawmakers head out of town Friday for a weeklong recess.
"We're stuck," McConnell said Tuesday. "The next move, obviously, is up to the House."
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) did not agree.
"The House did its work. We won this fight," Boehner said recently, acknowledging that McConnell's "got a tough job."
"There's little point in additional House action," Boehner's spokesman reiterated Tuesday.
Republicans are refusing to fund the department unless they can put restraints on Obama's plans to provide deportation relief for up to 5 million immigrants who live in the country illegally.
The House, with its robust Republican majority, easily passed the money bill last month, but it immediately ran into trouble in the Senate.
Democrats are not interested in stopping Obama's plan, and Republicans, with a 54-seate Senate majority, cannot get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
Even though a handful of Democratic senators have expressed concern over the White House action on immigration, they have been unwilling to side with the GOP. Instead, they say they want to fund the Homeland Security Department and hold a separate debate on immigration.
Both sides say they want to avoid shutting down the department, but a resolution is not yet in sight. Ultimately, the endgame is likely to be stop-gap legislation that funds the department, perhaps for a short period, and leaves the immigration debate to another day.
"Obviously, that's like the last choice," Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said recently. "In this city, doing the worst common denominator option usually ends up happening.
"Hopefully there is a game plan that I'm not privy to that gets us out of this easily."
If a bill eventually passes that allows Obama's immigration plans to proceed, one question will be whether House Republicans or Senate Republicans will take the blame from conservatives in the party.
"They'd like to leave the hot potato with us," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), "and I think we've made it pretty clear we've tried our best, and the math doesn't work."
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