If you don't have the votes to get a bill passed, do you:
a) Wait for people to change their minds;
b) Rewrite the bill and try again; or
c) Break something on the theory that it will persuade your opponents to cave?
This is the question confronting congressional Republicans after Senate Democrats refused to support a hotly disputed Department of Homeland Security funding bill passed by the House. In addition to keeping DHS open for the remainder of the fiscal year -- a goal that both sides shared -- the bill would have blocked or rolled back the executive actions President Obama has taken on immigration since 2012.
Of the three choices above, option "a" isn't really an option. DHS' money runs out Friday, and if Congress doesn't act before then, the agency will have to furlough some 30,000 workers, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. An additional 100,000 DHS employees would have to work without pay, Boxer said, although Congress would probably reimburse them after the dispute is resolved.
Option "b" is what Senate Republicans eventually chose to do; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently struck a deal with Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to strip the immigration riders from the funding bill in exchange for Democrats letting the bill come up for debate. At least some of the riders are expected to come up for a vote later in a separate bill.
At this point, conservative House Republicans appear wedded to option "c." Rather than accepting the Senate's inability to pass a DHS bill that negates Obama's executive actions, a number of conservatives have called on the party to keep fighting for something they don't have the votes to win.
Here, for example, is what Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said about McConnell's efforts to overcome the Democrats' filibuster.
"The Senate Majority Leader's plan to divorce the funding bill from the unlawful actions it is restricting is tantamount to surrender, and won't meet with support in the People's House," Salmon said in a statement. "Joined by my colleagues in the House, I will fight against any funding bill that does not fully defund the President's illegal actions."
Salmon based his stance on his belief that Obama (an "out-of-control executive ... intent on assuming the powers of a king") exceeded his authority. That's a legal question a federal appeals court in Texas is now considering. As a political matter, though, Salmon's view won't prevail unless it has 60 votes in the Senate -- the de facto threshold for passing anything in the Filibuster Era.
And as the Senate demonstrated very, very clearly, there aren't 60 votes for Salmon's position.
This reality should be easy enough to understand, given that it's been in effect for more than a decade. And yet House Republicans seem unable to absorb the message. Witness what Salmon told Politico on Wednesday: "The voters believed in November that Harry Reid was going to be dethroned and the Senate was going to be run by Republicans. And I'm sad to say that hasn't happened."
Actually, the Senate is being run by Republicans. They set the agenda just as Reid used to. What they don't control is how Democrats vote. Nor have they changed the filibuster rule that allows the minority party to bottle up legislation that doesn't have support from a bipartisan supermajority.
All of those things will still be true Feb. 28, even if the House refuses to pass a DHS funding bill without the disputed immigration riders. And they will remain true for as long as the DHS is in partial shutdown. Democrats won't budge because they will count on the public to blame Republicans for the failure to fund the agency, just as the public blamed Republicans for the broader government shutdown in 2013.
Sooner or later, House Republicans will move on to the next fight. For the sake of everyone drawing a paycheck from the Department of Homeland Security, let's hope they do so by Friday.