Democrats would fold if Homeland Security shuts down, some House and Senate Republicans argue.

By Manu Raju and Jake Sherman
2/11/15 – 8:14 PM EST – Updated 2/12/15 8:17 AM EST

A faction of House and Senate conservatives is pushing Republican leaders to take the battle over the Homeland Security Department to the brink, arguing the party would win the public relations war with Democrats if a standoff over immigration led to a shutdown of the agency.

The closed-door debate picked up new urgency in the Capitol on Wednesday, with House and Senate GOP leaders in an awkward public impasse over the issue — just a month after they assumed complete control of Congress and with two weeks before funding runs out for the department.

Conservative hard-liners are arguing they have a stronger political hand now than they did in 2013, when a fight over Obamacare led to a 16-day government shutdown and a backlash against Republicans. This time, conservatives say, Democrats are in a politically untenable position, given their refusal to begin Senate debate over the funding bill because it includes provisions aimed at gutting Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration actions. Democrats, they say, would ultimately capitulate after DHS shuts down.
Miles of pipe ready to become part of the Keystone Pipeline are pictured. | AP Photo

The immigration matter was debated privately at a Republican lunch Wednesday in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, with leading conservatives, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, asserting that Democrats would be the political losers if a DHS shutdown occurs, several senators said. Other immigration hard-liners, like Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Bill Flores (R-Texas), also argued Wednesday their party would be in a stronger political position if Congress fails to meet the Feb. 27 funding deadline.

And a prominent Republican and top Senate GOP political strategist — Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker — made a similar case. In an interview, Wicker said the latest battle over immigration is “far different” from the 2013 shutdown given that this fight is over a single agency — rather than the entire government — and that Democrats would incur a political backlash because of their refusal to even debate the matter.

“I have not been one to wave the bloody shirt very often in my 20-plus years in the Congress,” said Wicker, a former House member who now runs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “But on this issue, Republicans are funding the government, and our Democratic colleagues are refusing to even get to the issue — even to show their voters back home where they stand.”

But other GOP leaders are skeptical, including Wicker’s House counterpart, Oregon’s Greg Walden, who runs the House GOP campaign committee.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, listens to a speaker during the signing ceremony for H.R.203, the ‘Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.’ in the US Capitol on February 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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