Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talks about efforts to end a standoff over funding for the Homeland Security Department. (Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images)

By Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro
February 25, 2015

Senate leaders moved toward a deal Wednesday to avoid a shutdown of the Homeland Security Department, sidestepping a fight over immigration policy, as President Obama declared his administration would curtail deportations of immigrants in the country illegally despite losing a court fight on the issue this month.

Money for the Homeland Security Department has been tied up for weeks as congressional conservatives sought to block the department’s budget unless Democrats agreed to a measure repealing Obama’s executive actions on deportation.

Funds for the department, which oversees immigration and border security, among other duties, will run out Friday night unless lawmakers act. Administration officials say that would force some department employees off the job, while about 85% of the department’s more than 200,000 “front-line” employees would have to work without pay.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been anxious to avoid even a temporary shutdown of the department, fearing the political risk. On Tuesday, he offered to move ahead with a no-strings-attached bill to provide funds, and on Wednesday, Senate Democrats agreed not to block his plan.

Meanwhile, in a meeting with activists in Washington and later in a town hall event in Miami hosted by Telemundo, Obama defended his plan to stop the deportation of several million immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally. The executive action he took was necessary to encourage a large population to come out of the shadows, work and pay taxes, he said.

He tried to calm worries about the legal difficulties his plan has encountered, saying at the town hall event that a decision this month by a federal judge in Texas to block implementation of his plan was “just one federal judge.”

His administration has appealed the decision “aggressively,” Obama said, adding that the legal fight won’t slow down the administration’s decision to shift the focus of deportations from families to people with criminal records.

“You are going to see a substantial change even as the case makes its way through the courts,” Obama told the group.

Obama’s trip was the latest sign of the president’s hope to begin shaping the issues of the 2016 presidential race. Democrats hope that a large Latino turnout in their favor, like the ones they enjoyed in 2008 and 2012, will help them again. The immigration issue is key to that.

The standoff over the Homeland Security budget has helped heighten the contrast between the two parties on immigration issues, much to the chagrin of some Republican strategists.

To end the deadlock, McConnell proposed that the Senate vote to provide money for the department and act separately to overturn Obama’s policy.

Even if both houses passed a repeal measure, however, Obama could veto it, which the president made clear he would do.

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