U.S. Republicans struggle to block Obama immigration moves

By David Lawder and Susan Cornwell
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about his legislation proposal to offer paid sick leave for Americans while at Charmington's Cafe in Baltimore, Maryland, January 15, 2015. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By David Lawder and Susan Cornwell

HERSHEY, Pa. (Reuters) - U.S. Republican lawmakers acknowledged on Thursday it will be difficult for the Senate to pass a House of Representatives bill blocking President Barack Obama's immigration initiatives, and vowed not to put security funding at risk in the process.

At a policy retreat in Pennsylvania, House and Senate Republicans discussed the path forward after the House approved a Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would halt the executive actions on immigration.

"We're going to try to pass it," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the House bill. "We'll see what happens. If we're unable to do that, then we'll let you know what comes next."

Senator John Cornyn, McConnell's second-in-command, said any disagreements between the House and Senate would not be allowed to provoke a "drama" involving shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. "That's off the table," he said.

Republicans now control the Senate with a 54-vote majority, but need 60 votes to overcome procedural objections by Democrats who have vowed to stall the measure.

Senator John Thune said Senate Republicans shared the House's goal of stopping Obama's actions on immigration, including a November order lifting the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. But he added, "at the end of the day, in the Senate it's going to take 60 votes."

The House amendments to the $39.7 billion DHS funding bill seek to deny any spending to implement Obama's November order and nullify his directive giving prosecutors greater discretion in pursuing cases against illegal immigrants.

The measure also seeks to reverse a 2012 initiative deferring actions against more than 600,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Some Republicans say they would support a "clean" DHS funding bill for domestic security needs, if the immigration provisions stall in the Senate or draw a threatened veto by Obama.

But one Republican, California Representative Jeff Denham, said the deferring action amendment was an overreach that could lead to deportations of people who grew up in the United States.

This "sends the wrong message to the American public on what our overall reform ideas are," Denham said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned lawmakers not to jeopardize the agency's funding amid heightened concerns about attacks in France and recent threats to the U.S. government.

"In these times, the budget of the Department of Homeland Security cannot become a political volleyball," Johnson said.

(Editing by John Whitesides, G Crosse and Leslie Adler)