No time to make America less safe

Innocent people are being attacked in Copenhagen and Paris. Egyptian Christians have been beheaded by terrorists in Libya. Foreign cyber attacks are on the upswing. A new Gallup poll shows Americans believe ISIS and Islamic militant groups represent the greatest security threat facing this country, with 84 percent describing it as "critical." Even Iran's nuclear ambitions aren't perceived as being so scary, nor is anything involving Russia's prime minister.

So naturally, it's time to allow a possible shutdown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by Congress.


As difficult as it may be for average Americans to even contemplate, there was House Speaker John A. Boehner appearing on a Fox show on Sunday telling host Chris Wallace that he was "certainly" prepared for just that thing. And of course he blamed the whole mess on Senate Democrats, which was kind of novel given that Democrats no longer set the agenda in either chamber.

Just last week, it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said DHS funding was in the hands of the House. "The next move is obviously up to the House," is exactly how the Kentucky Republican put it to reporters last Tuesday after Democrats refused to allow the House bill to come to a vote in his chamber. Did anyone tell Mr. Boehner about that? Apparently not. The political conflict isn't between Democrats and Republicans but between the Republican leaders of the House and Senate.

Here's the problem. The House passed a DHS funding bill that includes provisions to overturn President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. Senate Democrats are using their filibuster authority to prevent it from coming to a vote. That's hardly surprising and not especially relevant since, even if they somehow let the measure pass the Senate on a party line vote, it would still face a promised White House veto.

Mr. McConnell rightly recognized that the House is going to have to back down. Democrats know it, too. Mr. Obama's decision to shield some illegal immigrants from deportation — many whom have children who are American citizens — riled conservatives, but it's hardly as urgent a matter as keeping the U.S. secure from the threat of terrorists.

So this is a losing strategy and the House GOP has now painted itself in a corner. At what point will Mr. Boehner recognize this and revert to rational mode? One assumes that will take place sometime before Feb. 27 when Homeland Security funding is set to expire, but there are no guarantees when it comes to House Republicans.

Wasn't it just a couple of months ago that Republican leaders were talking about how they've learned their lesson from government shutdowns and that they felt an obligation to demonstrate to the public that they can govern responsibly? Surely, invoking the "nuclear option" and gutting the filibuster rule — a strategy they decried so vociferously when Democrats held a Senate majority — is not being seriously considered.

And claiming Democrats are at fault if the shutdown goes forward because they insisted on a "clean bill?" That may fly with the hard core party faithful, but we seriously doubt anyone else is going to buy it, particularly from a party that's been defending filibusters for years. It's pretty clear which party is at the helm of this particular Titanic of a political strategy.

Meanwhile, Congressional leadership takes this impasse so seriously that Congress is not even in session this week. They won't be back in Washington until next week and will have just a few days to take action before the Feb. 27 deadline. Even if they come to their senses, some damage has been done to their goal of demonstrating that they can govern responsibly by taking this whole thing to the precipice.

What would a DHS shutdown look like? The vast majority of the agency's 240,000 employees are classified as "essential" and would likely keep working — including Transportation Security Administration agents who screen passengers at airports. But officials say there are important programs that would be disrupted — from the hiring of Secret Service agents to funding local security efforts — that would clearly make the nation less safe.

Let Republicans offer a bill to overturn Mr. Obama's executive orders on immigration if they must. Let them take the executive branch to court if they believe he's overstepped his Constitutional authority. But causing Americans to be less safe when the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks are fresh on their minds is not going to gain them anything.