WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Congress passed legislation late Friday to fund the Department of Homeland Security for an additional week -- a move to give lawmakers more time to find a long-term solution and avoid a partial shutdown of one of the nation's most vital national security agencies.
The Senate earlier Friday approved $40 billion to fund the Department of Homeland Security through September, but the House of Representatives ignored it because it did nothing to nullify President Barack Obama's immigration directives.
The House then attempted to pass its own bill, which leaders considered preferable to the Senate version, and fund the department through March 19. However, Republicans suffered a humiliating defeat when that attempt was shut down by a vote of 203-224.
The bill's failure was an embarrassing setback for the GOP and House Speaker John Boehner because it was viewed as a surefire last-minute rescue -- a temporary solution to be enacted in case Congress didn't pass a funding bill that also took on immigration. When that failed, House Republicans unexpectedly found themselves facing a fast-approaching shutdown, and no solution in sight.
Hoping to secure a last-minute deal, the Senate then held a voice vote to approve the week-long funding. The House then quickly adopted that measure by a vote of 357-60.
In securing DHS funding for another week, Congress averted a partial Homeland Security shutdown with only two hours to spare. About 30,000 non-essential DHS employees would have been furloughed at midnight. The 200,000 others would have remained on the job, without pay, because their vital national security roles are considered too valuable to furlough.
Republicans and Democrats will take up the issue again next week to reach a long-term deal. It is uncertain, however, whether Republicans will continue to try and work immigration into the bill. The House had previously attempted to pass it containing language that would have blocked White House directives providing protections for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
On Wednesday, speaking at a town hall event in Miami, Obama blasted Republicans for tying the DHS' fiscal well-being to the divisive immigration issue.
"Instead of trying to hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is so important for our national security, fund that and let's get on with passing comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said.
Earlier Friday, President Obama indicated he would sign a temporary solution if the alternative was a partial shutdown of Homeland Security.
"If the president is faced with a choice of having the Department of Homeland Security shut down or fund that department for a short term, the president is not going to allow the agency to shut down," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier Friday.
Earlier this week, the House introduced a bill that would have frozen pay for lawmakers if the standoff over immigration resulted in a partial DHS shutdown. The legislation would've kept all members of Congress from receiving paychecks until the matter was settled and the agency reopened. But that bill is still in committee.