WASHINGTON — Sounding a likely retreat, House Republicans weighed short-term funding Thursday to prevent a partial shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security while temporarily leaving in place Obama administration immigration policies they have vowed to repeal.
Under the emerging proposal, the agency would receive funds with no strings attached for perhaps three weeks. The House would also approve a separate measure to allow normal agency operations through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, but only in exchange for immigration-related concessions from the White House.
There was no immediate reaction from the White House. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid earlier in the day did not rule out accepting a short-term funding bill if the House cleared it.
Without legislation signed into law by the weekend, an estimated 30,000 Homeland Security employees would be furloughed beginning Monday. Another 200,000 would be expected to work without pay. Many Republicans have said they fear they would pay a political price for even a partial shutdown at the department, which has major responsibilities for anti-terrorism.
The proposal under consideration by House Republicans marked a retreat from their longstanding insistence that no money be approved for Homeland Security as long as President Barack Obama's immigration directives remained in place. Yet it followed by a few days an announcement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he was moving to decouple the two issues.
The officials who described events in the House did so only on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to pre-empt a formal announcement. The GOP rank and file set an early evening meeting to discuss the proposal.
Whatever the eventual outcome, it appeared Obama was closing in on a triumph in his latest showdown with the Republican-controlled Congress. GOP leaders announced last fall they would attempt to force a rollback in his immigration policy by tying the issue to funds at Homeland Security, a trade-off he has adamantly opposed since it was first broached.
With directives issued in 2012 and earlier this year, Obama largely eliminated the threat of deportation for more than 4 million immigrants who entered the country illegally, including some brought to the United States as youngsters by their parents.
House Republicans last month tied funding for the Department of Homeland Security to reversal of both of the president's policy directives.
Under their revised plan, one official said they would agree to leave in place the president's 2012 move to shield immigrants brought to the country as youngsters. Instead, they would seek repeal of an administration order from last fall that related to the broader immigrant population.
Republicans say the president is acting unconstitutionally, and a federal judge in Texas recently issued an order that temporarily blocked the administration from carrying out Obama's 2014 policy.
The White House has appealed that ruling, and Obama, expressing confidence he will prevail, said Wednesday he would take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Even so, one Republican with ties to the leadership suggested his party simply declare victory.
"We actually got this into the arena where it needs to be," said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, referring to the court case. "It's a constitutional question ... and we've won the opening round."
At a news conference earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner offered no hint of a change in GOP strategy, repeatedly turning aside questions on the subject.
"When I make decisions, I'll let you know," he said when asked what the House's reaction would be if the Senate approved a no-strings bill to keep DHS in operation.
A Senate vote on its measure is expected within a day or two, and even high-profile opponents of eased immigration laws, including Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, have said they would not seek to postpone the inevitable. "I don't look to have any unnecessary delays in this process," he said. "I think it's appropriate to move forward with the bill."
At his news conference, Boehner also betrayed no concern that rebellious conservatives might try to topple him from power if he didn't hold firm in demanding the White House cede ground on immigration.
"No, heaven's sakes no. Not at all," he said.
Although loath to provide information, Boehner betrayed no tension over his latest legislative struggle.
Fending off one question, he puckered his lips as if to send kisses in the direction of a reporter who asked what his plan was.
AP reporters Charles Babington, Andrew Taylor and Laurie Kellman contributed to this story.