House Republicans want to hang themselves — and their Democratic colleagues just supplied them the rope. Many
Democrats joined restrictionist Republicans to kill 203-224 a three-week funding extension of the Department of Homeland Security, which means that the agency might shutdown tonight when its funding runs out. (For why this is no tragedy read Nick Gillespie's piece here and my column here.) But why did the Democrats do this?
Officially, because they want to stand on principle and vote only on the clean full-year funding bill that the Senate passed this morning with no poison pills stripping money for President Obama's immigration executive action.
Unofficially, because they want to give Republicans more time to make a fool of themselves before they come back to the table, heads hanging.
House Republicans have no endgame here, and the Democrats know it. They couldn't get Senate Republicans to pass their bill funding the DHS but defunding the executive order because the GOP doesn't have a filibuster-proof majority in that chamber. Senate Democrats managed to remain pretty united in their opposition, forcing Sen. Mitch McConnell to back down. And even if the McConnell had managed to push such a bill through the Senate, the president would have vetoed it.
So now House Republicans' options are to pass something along what the Senate has passed right away or after throwing a few more tantrums, just as they did with the debt ceiling fight in 2013. (They shut down the government then rather than raise the ceiling, only to capitulate later after public opinion squarely turned against them, just as it will this time too.)
The Wall Street Journal reports that the House leadership is weighing an even shorter-term funding bill, which might get more Republican support. The only reason why that would be the case is that restrictionists were not expecting to actually succeed in killing the three-week funding extension because they didn't think Democrats would vote for it. So now that the Democrats have called their bluff and basically dared them to shut down the DHS, a shorter-term funding bill will give restrictionists a face-saving way out of the jam.
But that will just mean that instead of shutting down the DHS now, they'll shut it whenever that funding extension ends—unless they come to their senses then, which they'll have to eventually.
They have a better shot of running out the clock on the executive action by burying it in lawsuits, as I wrote earlier this week, but that route gives them fewer opportunities for brinksmanship and grandstanding to impress their "anti amnesty" base.
So enjoy some good political theater over the next few weeks.