House Republican leaders last month pushed through a $1 trillion spending bill that funded most government agencies through this fiscal year. The exception was the Department of Homeland Security.
GOP leaders decided instead to pass a three-month continuing resolution for the post-9/11 agency. The idea was to buy time to construct a legislative response to President Barack Obama's recent immigration executive action, to which Republicans are vehemently opposed. DHS enforces most immigration laws.
Among a myriad other functions, the department — a hodgepodge of agencies thrown under a new agency in the wake of the September 11 attacks — is charged with helping sniff out potential terrorist attacks on US soil.
With funding set to expire in mere weeks, DHS funding is a front-burner issue on Capitol Hill after armed Islamic radicals allegedly stormed the Paris office of the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, and killed 12 people.
"I don't believe that the funding of the department is in fact at risk," Boehner told reporters on Thursday.
He went on to jab Obama over his immigration action, saying it jeopardizes "the rule of law and the sanctity of America's Constitution."
The speaker, newly emboldened after defeating a rebellion by some in his caucus who tried to deny him enough votes to again win the House's top leadership post, vowed to get a DHS funding bill done. But he also signaled a political fight over immigration is nearing.
"The president has taken actions that are beyond the scope of his ability and Congress cannot just sit here and look the other way," Boehner said. "We have to take action and we will."
A reporter then asked Boehner if he could envision DHS funding being at risk in the days after another terrorist attack in the United States.
"The issue isn't about funding the Department of Homeland Security," he replied. "Members of Congress support funding the department. But we cannot continue to allow the president to go around the Congress and go around the law and take unilateral action like he has."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to the press on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty
In June, the House Appropriations Committee approved $46.2 billion for the department (including money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency), which does business with some major US defense companies. A few weeks later, the Senate's spending panel approved a $47.2 billion bill.
House Republicans are expected to insert immigration provisions in whatever DHS funding bill the lower chamber passes. But getting 60 votes required in the Senate seems unlikely. From there, a compromise version lacking the controversial provisions could be the lone route to funding the department.
"The House is going to work its will. And the way the process works is, once the House works its will, the Senate will work its will," Boehner said. "And then we have options. We can go to conference. We can take the Senate bill. There are a lot of options available to us. When we pass our bill, we'll see what the Senate can do with it, and then we'll act."
In the wake of the Paris attack, some lawmakers say Congress should do more —maybe spend more — to prevent such attacks at home and on the soil of allies.
"Certainly, more has to be done," Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Wednesday. "It has to be done in a bipartisan way.
"It's not just Armed Services. On the Department of Homeland Security side, I'm on the Appropriations Committee," Hoeven said. "We've got to work both here at home as well as abroad to make sure we are doing more to review what happened and figure out what we can do better, and to make sure that we're taking steps not just on behalf of Americans, but, again, whether it's France or Australia or anybody else, working with our friends and allies against terrorism around the globe."
As members are calling for stepped-up efforts against terrorists, some scholars say the response must be broader.
"Yes, this is partially about an ideological appropriation of religion and the issues of free speech, but it is free speech as applied disproportionately against a community that is racially, religiously and socioeconomically on the margins of French — and many other European — society," says Omid Safi, a professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center.
"As such, to purely treat this as a freedom of speech issue without also dealing with the broader issues of xenophobia is missing the mark," Safi said. "The response to the Paris shooting should consist of not merely a full-throated defense of freedom of speech, but also a renewed commitment to a robust and pluralistic democracy, one which encompasses marginalized communities."