Some Republicans say the party should rethink its plans to use Homeland Security funding as a vehicle to fight Obama on immigration
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the department has suffered from recent years' tight funding
Their comments come after an attack on a satirical newspaper in Paris on Wednesday morning
It took less than six hours for a terror attack in Paris to trigger a budget fight in Washington.
Republicans had seen an upcoming battle over funding for the Department of Homeland Security – which, in addition to its anti-terrorism duties, also enforces immigration laws – as an opportunity to force a confrontation with President Barack Obama over his move to limit deportations. House leaders are set to unveil the bill re-igniting that fight Friday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told CNN after the Paris attack Wednesday that the party should rethink those plans – or at least make sure they’re narrowly tailored.
“I hope that we could challenge the executive action of the President in a mature fashion,” he said. “I’ve never been for shutting down Homeland Security.”
The Homeland Security Department’s funding is due to expire Feb. 27 – a date chosen by Republicans in December, as they hashed out a deal to keep the rest of the government up and running through much of 2015, specifically to force Obama into a confrontation over immigration.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that the department needs to be funded through an appropriations bill – not the sort of continuing resolution Congress has used in recent years to keep agencies afloat.
He said right now, priorities like the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, border security efforts and pay increases for the agency’s employees are all being shorted.
“We can’t continue to function through a continuing resolution. That poses a real risk to homeland security,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Wednesday night, Johnson added that the fight over Obama’s executive action on immigration that has bogged down DHS funding in political controversy “doesn’t really make any sense,” because it’s impossible to defund the action Obama took to delay deportations and prioritize searches at the border.
The President has said he’d veto any DHS funding bill that attempted to roll back his immigration move, Johnson said, and he urged lawmakers against “playing political football with the budget of the homeland security capability of this nation.”
“There are things that need to be funded – new starts, new funding for border security, counterterrorism, the Secret Service, that cannot wait much longer,” Johnson said.
“For the homeland security of this nation, we need an appropriations bill and we need it soon,” he added.
He also said had spoken that morning to House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican, about his concerns and expressed confidence they would finally come to an agreement on funding the department.
“[McCaul] shares my concern,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, agreed with Graham, telling CNN: “I think we have to rifle shot these things, rather than meat axe. And so, we’ll be talking about best ways to address it without shutting down the government.”
Rep. Peter King, meanwhile, said the Paris attack should be a “wake-up call,” and warned conservatives to make sure they don’t harm the department’s broader functions.
“If they want to target immigration to retaliate against the President, that’s fine,” the New York Republican told reporters on the hill. “But we have to make it clear that Homeland Security – at a time we saw this massive attack in Paris – that we can’t be cutting funding or programs which would protect Americans from a terrorist attack.”
Tying the two issues together brings the risk that Republicans could be blamed if the department shuts down – either because Congress can’t agree on a way to fund it, or because Obama vetoes a bill that doesn’t pay for Homeland Security’s immigration-related functions.
Even some strident conservatives said they needed to avoid being seen as putting funding for the entire department at risk.
“I believe we should fully fund DHS and at the same time prevent the president from violating the constitution,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
The GOP took majority control of both the House and Senate on Tuesday, giving them extra leverage to try to undo Obama’s executive action, potentially through the Homeland Security funding bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that those plans haven’t changed.
“There are terrorists around the world who are intent on killing Americans and other freedom loving individuals around the country. I believe that the President’s executive action with regard to immigration are outside of the Constitution and outside of his power and I believe that we can deal with that issue in the Department of Homeland Security bill without jeopardizing the security of our country.”
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said the terror attacks will not alter the Republicans’ plans on the Homeland Security bill, which he said they will introduce on Friday and vote on it early next week.
When the fight over the President’s executive actions started last fall, Rogers and others argued that the agency tasked with carrying out the new policy couldn’t be stripped of money by Congress because it is set up to self-fund operations through fees it collects.
Rogers told reporters “the only way to get at the use of these fees would be to change the basic law” but said no decisions were final yet about the details of the bill.
Conservative GOP Rep. John Fleming said he thinks spending bill still needs to target agencies dealing with immigration – it can crafted in “in such a way that it really hits the accounts.”
“This is not a seminal moment. We know that terrorism is going to happen in the future and we need to be prepared for it,” Fleming said, but blamed the President for mixing immigration fight with security issues by taking his executive action.
CNN’s Dana Bash and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.