U.S. Capitol
Democrats could use the rules to force a clean funding bill through the House, unless the GOP decides to stop them.

By Daniel Newhauser
March 2, 2015

House Republican leaders still don’t seem to have a plan to avoid a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security at the end of the week. But they may have an escape hatch—one that could technically keep the department open without GOP fingerprints, but might infuriate conservatives in the process.

An obscure provision of House rules would allow any member of the House to force a vote on the Senate-passed, full-year DHS funding bill now that the Senate has voted Monday evening against going to conference with the House. A message to reporters from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office earlier Monday pointedly noted that once the Senate had acted, “the clean, yearlong Homeland Security funding bill that passed the Senate last Friday will once again be ready for a House vote at any time.”

Speaker John Boehner has not announced a way forward, and his spokesman, Michael Steel, wouldn’t tip the GOP’s hand after the Senate’s vote. “We are disappointed that Senate Democrats have once again rejected regular order. Now, we will talk with House Republican members about the way forward,” Steel said.

Most GOP members weren’t in town until Monday evening, when the House took its first votes of the week. They will meet behind closed doors to discuss the next steps at a Republican conference meeting Tuesday morning.

At his weekly briefing with reporters, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer made clear that Democratic leaders were aware of the tactic, which was first written about by Roll Call, but wouldn’t say whether they planned to use it. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declined to comment, referring instead to Pelosi’s statement from last week, in which she wrote in a letter to her members urging them to vote for a one-week continuing resolution, “Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week.”

Many Democrats took that to mean that Boehner had promised Pelosi a vote on the Senate-passed DHS bill. But Boehner said on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, “The promise I made to Ms. Pelosi is the same promise I made to Republicans, that we follow regular order.”

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