Senate Democrats on Tuesday foiled a Republican attempt to pass legislation that would defund President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.
The defunding language was added to a Department of Homeland Security funding bill last month. Even though Republicans run the Senate, there are only 54 Republicans, and 60 were needed to advance the bill.
But after a brief debate, the Senate voted 51-48, a vote that will force GOP leaders to figure out how pass the DHS spending bill before funding expires later this month. Every Democrat voted against it, and were joined by one Republican, Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.).
Democrats have repeatedly stressed that Republicans should not tie the two issues together, and that they should instead pass a bill that doesn't block Obama's immigration action.
"The safety and security of our nation is at risk if we hold that funding for homeland security operations," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). "Anything short of passing a clean funding bill will will endanger important security operations and could very well put our citizens at risk."
Before the vote, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made another push to get the Senate to eliminate language defunding Obama's immigration plan. Johnson said the bill currently includes "politically charged amendments" that Obama has said he would veto.
But Republicans have said Democrats are the ones who have to explain why the are voting down a bill to fully fund DHS and override Obama's unilateral action. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said today's vote was only on whether to proceed to the bill, and said Democrats should support that vote just to start work on the DHS funding bill.
"We need to take up this DHS appropriations funding bill and debate it, to let the Senate do it's work," he said.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to stand up against Obama's unilateral action, and called out a few Democrats who have indicated they weren't fans of Obama's decision to go around Congress.
"There's a whole host of Democrats who issued press releases criticizing the president's executive overreach – McCaskill, Donnelly, others," Boehner said. "Was it all talk?"
Republicans have listed seven Democratic senators who expressed opposition to Obama: Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Al Franken (Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Angus King (Maine), Joe Manchin (W.Va.) Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Warner (Va.). King is an Independent who works mostly with Democrats.
But Tuesday's vote saw all Democrats stick together, which raises real questions about how Republicans will proceed next. Many conservatives fear GOP leaders will cave in at some point and pass a DHS spending bill that doesn't defund Obama's immigration plan.
If the Senate proceeds that way, that would eliminate the big leverage Republicans hold today, since the DHS spending bill is seen as something that must pass at some point. For example, splitting the two issues could lead to a bill defunding Obama's plans that might even pass the House and Senate, but then get vetoed by Obama.
Senate Republicans have not yet explained their next steps, but were expected to start those discussions this week.