Republican Senator Backs Down: We Should Not Be Thwarting National Security Funding Over Immigration

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) CREDIT: AP
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) CREDIT: AP

A day after criticizing Democrats for allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to run out of funding, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) made a 180-degree pivot, stating that he now supports removing amendments in the funding bill that would block the White House’s executive action to grant immigration relief to millions of immigrants.

The DHS is set to run out of funding on February 27, potentially leaving over 143,000 agency employees without a paycheck soon.

House Republicans passed a bill last month that would fund the department through September, the end of the 2015 fiscal year, but they tacked on several amendments aimed at thwarting President Obama’s executive action on immigration. Congressional Democrats have refused to pass the bill with attachments they deem insidious. All 46 Senate Democrats signed off on a letter stating that taking on the president’s action should be a separate fight from funding the DHS agency.

Kirk endorsed this Democratic position Wednesday, saying, “I generally agree with the Democratic position here. I think we should have never fought this battle on DHS funding.”

“My hope is that we pass it clean now,” he added. “As the governing party, we should govern. I would think we should just pass a regular appropriations bill under regular order.”

Kirk’s statements stand in contrast to what he said just a day before to Politico. Criticizing Democrats for voting against the funding bill, Kirk said Tuesday, “The Republicans — if there is a successful attack during a DHS shutdown — we should build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office and say, ‘You are responsible for these dead Americans.’”

Kirk’s about-face comes at a time when a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that voters in his state “don’t like Senate Republicans playing politics with funding for the Department of Homeland Security.” As a blue-state Republican up for election next year, PPP found that Kirk is “deeply vulnerable” in a state where “there is more than 2:1 favor” for the president’s executive action.

Both parties have been tossing around the DHS funding bill in a game of hot potato, faulting the other side for not moving on their preferred version of a bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Wednesday, “The House has done its job, why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote no?”

But even when Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced a “clean” funding bill that doesn’t include the “poison pill riders” Wednesday afternoon, House Republicans unanimously voted to block consideration. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed her disappointment in a press statement, “While Republicans continue to play an extremely irresponsible game with our homeland security, Democrats are working to restore common sense to D.C. … House Republicans shouldn’t hold our homeland security hostage to their anti-immigrant politics. “

Even those responsible for running DHS oppose the amendments to the funding bill. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that the current House-approved bill is “unworkable” and this week reiterated that “border security is not free.” And three former DHS Secretaries, Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, and Janet Napolitano, also wrote a letter asking Republicans not to risk national security over an immigration fight.

Just hours before Kirk supported a clean funding bill, immigration advocates held a sit-in protest at his office. After his remarks, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), a statewide coalition of more than 130 immigrant and refugee organizations, which led the sit-in protest applauded him. ICIRR said, “Now Senator Kirk needs to actually deliver for our families and our state. … We urge Senator Kirk to work with his colleagues to pass the clean DHS spending bill that he now says he supports. Only by doing so will he truly be in line with the voters of this state.”