Washington Braces for a Homeland Security Shutdown

Image: John Boehner, Mitch McConnell
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, leads a ceremony for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. The bill is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine Corps combat veteran who died by suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. The legislation, which now goes to President Obama for his signature, calls for evaluation of existing Veterans Affairs mental health and suicide prevention programs, and expands the reach of these programs for veterans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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A day after Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate last November, Mitch McConnell promised that things would be different with the GOP in control of both chambers of Congress. “The American people have changed the Senate. So I think we have an obligation to change the behavior of the Senate and to begin to function again.” When a reporter followed up asking McConnell how the American people could believe him (after what happened in the last Congress and the Congress before that), he replied, “Well, we have to demonstrate it.” But not even two months into this new GOP-controlled Congress, it appears we’re headed for yet another shutdown -- this time over the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans claim that Senate Democrats are the ones obstructing things, because they are filibustering a DHS funding bill that contains riders rolling back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Yet as we learned during the last government shutdown, the side that’s using government spending to demand changes to existing law or directives is going to be side that gets blamed if the government (or just part of it) shuts down. But don’t take our word for it. Take the word of GOP Sen. (and likely presidential candidate) Lindsey Graham. “If we don't fund the Department of Homeland Security, we'll get blamed as a party,” he said on Sunday.

Remembering what happened to the GOP during the last shutdown

While the shutdown of 2013 ultimately didn’t hurt the Republican Party in the midterms the following year, it is worth pointing out what happened just days after the shutdown began, according to our Oct. 2013 NBC/WSJ poll. The GOP’s fav/unfav rating DECLINED from 28% positive/44% negative in Sept. 2013 to 24% positive/53% negative right after the shutdown began; the Democrats’ advantage on the generic ballot INCREASED from three to eight points; and President Obama’s approval rating went UP from 45% to 47%. Now there are two ways to look this one. One, you can say that the GOP took a short-term hit but ultimately didn’t get punished. Or two, you can say that the problems associated with HealthCare.Gov and the federal health-care law -- which became a two-month story -- bailed out Republicans.

McConnell’s possible way out

After Democrats -- for the fourth time -- filibustered the GOP attempt to tie DHS funding to the rolling back of Obama’s immigration actions, Senate Majority Leader McConnell offered a POTENTIAL way out of the shutdown standoff. Per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, McConnell has proposed a stand-alone bill that denies funding for the implementation of Obama’s 2014 executive action. This bill, O’Donnell adds, is not attached to DHS spending. The glass-half-full take here is that Republicans, for the first time, are now legislatively separating the immigration rollbacks from the DHS funding, which offers a potential way out of the impasse. (Indeed, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports that Dem Sen. Joe Manchin could likely support this McConnell bill if it comes AFTER a clean bill to fund DHS.) The glass-half-empty take is that we have NO IDEA if House Republicans will buy this gambit. There’s another potential way out: McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner could propose language promising to prohibit any funds implementing Obama’s executive actions on immigration as long as they’re tied up in the courts. (And from those reading the tea leaves, that looks to be a while.) Such a proposal could give Republicans higher ground than they enjoy now. Saying, “Hey, we shouldn’t have the government spend any funds on actions that the courts are currently considering” could be more popular than essentially saying, “The only way we’re funding the Department of Homeland Security is by ripping up Obama’s executive actions.” The shutdown countdown clock is ticking…

Hillary goes to Silicon Valley

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There are several 2016 storylines today, and we start with Hillary Clinton’s speech in Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle: “In her appearance before a Silicon Valley women’s conference Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is staking an early claim to voters who could be key to her 2016 presidential ambition: upwardly mobile professional women who might be called “Lean In” voters... Clinton will be keynote speaker at the gathering at the Santa Clara Convention Center that has attracted scores of other prominent women — among them designer Diane Von Furstenberg, tech columnist Kara Swisher and former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson.” Per the guidance we’ve received, Clinton will take the stage around 4:45 pm ET and will speak for about 25 minutes. After her speech, Clinton will sit down with tech journalist Kara Swisher and take questions for another 25 minutes.

Rubio’s in New Hampshire

On the GOP side, Marco Rubio is in New Hampshire, and he sure sounds like someone who’s more than exploring a possible presidential bid. "I'm grateful that you would come here to listen to me this afternoon, and I look forward to coming back again and talking to you many, many more times," he said yesterday in the Granite State, per NH1’s Paul Steinhauser. More from the New York Times: “[T]hough he is not expected to make any official announcement until April, he is quietly telling donors that he is committed to running for president, not re-election to the Senate. (During a stop in Las Vegas, Mr. Rubio met privately with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor. Neither Mr. Rubio nor Mr. Adelson’s team would comment on what the two men had discussed.)” But as NBC’s Perry Bacon wrote last week, Rubio -- once hailed as a the GOP’s “savior” -- now finds himself as the underdog with fellow Floridian Jeb Bush also in the race. “A number of one-time Rubio fundraisers, including Washington lobbyist and longtime Rubio adviser Dirk Van Dongen, have said they will back Jeb Bush instead of the Florida senator.”

Good news, bad news for Christie

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- now far removed from the GOP’s 2016 top tier – is announcing a truce with his state’s teachers. The Newark Star-Ledger: “The governor and the state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, are working on ‘groundbreaking changes’ to fix the state's ailing pension system, Christie's office said Monday. Christie will also announce plans to make a $1.3 billion pension payment in the state budget that begins July 1. That payment is almost double what he put into the system for the current fiscal year, but far below what the state is supposed to contribute under the 2011 pension reform law.” So that’s the good news for Christie. The bad news? “A state judge ruled Monday that Gov. Chris Christie broke a law he signed by cutting nearly $1.6 billion from pension payments and must work with state lawmakers to restore the money in the current state budget,” the Star-Ledger adds.

What makes Walker so formidable: He has a (conservative) record of turning words into action

While the DC political world is focused about what Scott Walker is saying (and not saying) about Rudy Giuliani or President Obama’s Christianity, don’t miss what the Wisconsin governor is about to do in his own state -- break the state’s unions once and for all. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “Leadership committees in both houses of the Legislature voted Monday along party lines to approve an extraordinary session to take up so-called right-to-work legislation later this week in committee and on the Senate floor. Right-to-work laws ban labor contracts in the private sector that require workers to pay union fees.” The paper adds that even union officials acknowledge that they’re unable to stop these labor-law changes. Yes, Walker has received lots of bad press in recent days. But what separates himself from other GOP 2016ers is that he has a RECORD of turning words into action. And that is what makes him potentially formidable in a GOP presidential primary.

Will Rahm avoid a runoff in Chicago?

Finally, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is up for re-election today. He needs 50% plus one to avoid an April runoff, which would be embarrassing for the well-known mayor. “Emanuel is poised to get the most votes after having raised millions of dollars, plastering the airwaves with ads and winning an endorsement from his former boss, President Barack Obama. However, his four challengers say Emanuel's tenacious style and handling of some major city issues have left voters wanting a change,” the AP writes. This is what happens when you have to run against yourself rather than well-known opponents.

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