Commentary Magazine


GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »

8 Responses to “GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap”


    Does the proposal for a “clean” DHS funding bill mean stripping only the immigration-related restrictions from the language or stripping all of the other proposed restrictions on DHS operations as well?

  2. KENT LYON says:

    Mr. Tobin is as wrong as it’s possible to be. Lets recognize that the 2013 Government shutdown was nothing like a catastrophe, even though Mr. Tobin claims it was. It made hardly a ripple in our national life. It was not the disaster the Democrats also claimed it would be, and resulted in such phenomena as Veterans accessing a memorial that they were supposedly barred from visiting for no good reason. What Mr. Tobin means is that the shutdown was a POLITICAL catastrophe for Republicans, not a catastrophe of governance for the country. And that only because Republicans simply refuse to do anything to counter the White House false narrative, to make their case, either out of fear of the electorate or a secret and craven desire to see the White House succeed. It demonstrated how well we can get along without the federal leviathan.
    That the Republicans were blamed and that it hurt them in the next election is kind of hard to assert given the outcome of the 2014 midterms. What exactly is it that Mr. Tobin is saying? His position seems very difficult to reconcile with reality. It makes one wonder why he is so eager to dissuade Republicans from upholding the Constitution. To summarize, he proposes that Republicans fund unconstitutional decrees, that have been put on hold by the courts, risking a Constitutional crisis because it is politically convenient, in a situation in which Obama violated the Constitution with no regard for national security in order to force the Republicans in to a situation in which they couldn’t fund DHS without violating the Constitution, and Mr. Tobin, for political convenience, wishes that a Constitutional crisis ensue for Republican political convenience. That sounds like a real recipe for catastrophe that may destroy the country by establishing a dictatorial precedent that completely undermines the rule of law and destroys any pretense of Constitutional governance. Thank you for such sage advice, Mr. Tobin. Let’s just sacrifice the Constitution to Republican political expediency. Why not? Mr. Tobin appears to have an entirely sanguine opinion of the integrity and intelligence of the American electorate, believing, apparently, that we are all mindless fools who believe everything written in the NYT and who care not a whit for human liberty. If his view of the American electorate is correct, then we are long past the point of no return and America is irrevocably lost already. And, it’s not like DHS were actually doing much of anything. Rather, DHS is eagerly engaged in broaching American security by creating chaos on the border.
    A vacation to fly over country would be a good idea for Mr. Tobin right now. He might get a little less overwrought and become less anxious with a short break into reality and out of the bubble.
    What McConnell is doing is sheer bunk. Only in Washington is such avoidance of reality considered political brilliante. What an embarrassment. What a preposterous spectacle. Utterly insane and depraved. As bad as Roberts ACA supreme court double pretzel Red Queen majority opinion was, McConnell’s gambit is worse.

    • DAVID THOMSON says:

      The polling data clearly reveals that most Americans will blame—and punish Republicans for any government shutdown. The majority of our fellow citizens nationwide are inclined to vote Democrat. Never forget that the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2016 starts off with a roughly 170 to 105 Electoral College advantage. Flyover country? Most Electoral College votes are in the higher density areas of the country.

  3. PAUL FREEDMAN says:

    “with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.” two points: a) it is the Democrats who are filibustering, not the Republicans, b) 80# of DHS will continue to function as unpaid but critical employees so the department will not be “shut down”–and, see a) if it were the Democrats diid it–all of Commentary’s talking points about what is wrong with the current governance are useless if nothing is ever to be done about it except wait for the courts or another election or Santa Claus or something–the time is never right. well Jonathan life isn’t always fair and sometimes you have to put together a strategy to right the imbalances.

    by the way Commentary, this is the future of that Congressional Iranian agreement opposition you’ve been dreaming about.

  4. PAUL FREEDMAN says:

    so no “trap”–a) Obama would be perfectly happy for the GOP to rubber stamp all his excursions into monarchical powers without opposition and, b) gosh, this was the plan of the GOP leadership to begin with–hey they assured us, we’ll vote for the Cromnibus now but don’t worry you go ahead and elect us and by gosh we’ve put funded the DHS on a short-term authorization and then by gosh we’ll make that rascally Obama either fund the DHS, all the DHS, without unconstitutional expenditures on open borders or by gosh he’ll have to veto!! Rationalizations take paragraphs, principled action plans get more concise.

    “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

    Groucho Marx and the GOP Senate Leadership

  5. JOHN CARR says:

    2008- We have no options with D’s controlling both houses and the White House…

    2012- We have no options with D’s controlling the White House and Senate…

    2015…We have no options with D’s controlling the White house…

    2016…Even though we control both houses and the White House we can’t….

  6. PAUL FREEDMAN says:

    there is of course an alternative to “power of the purse” strategies against un-Constitutional power grabs by a Chef Executive and suborning of executive branch agencies; it’s called …. impeachment.

    oh no, can’t do that!!!!

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.