Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said his department is fully prepared to allow its protection of Congress to expire at the end of the week, insisting that the nation’s lawmakers had failed a fundamental test of looking out for the interests and safety of the American people and didn’t deserve safeguarding.
“We’ve had it with these games,” Mr. Johnson said between clenched teeth. “If the congressional leadership wants to make 2015 about them, fine. They can do it on their own dime and under their own protection.”
“God help them,” he added, storming past reporters and hurling a flag lapel pin in the direction of House Speaker John Boehner’s office.
The humiliating dressing down from the head of Homeland Security, comes just a week after Congress barely managed to keep the department running, extending its funding for seven days on Feb. 27 just hours before it was to run out and after weeks of suggesting it might allow DHS to shut down.
In the aftermath of Mr. Jeh’s threat, the Republican leadership team met in a lengthy session to come up with a new approach, but their options were limited given the deep rebellion by Homeland Security against supporting anything that might help lawmakers after the House threatened the department’s operations in a legislative effort at halting President Obama’s immigration policies.
After hours of fruitless brainstorming, Mr. Boehner walked wordlessly from the chamber, his head down. Behind him, a phalanx of panicked and suddenly unprotected congressmen scattered in all directions.
“We should have never fought this battle,” said Sen. Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, as he nervously practiced loading unloading a Glock 19 pistol he had just purchased. “In my view, in the long run, we need them more than they need us. This is just irresponsible of Congress.”
Just two months into the new session, the congressional majority seems to have fumbled badly, failing to get the votes it needed and possibly endangering the lives of its members in the process.
As the realization of a life of looking over shoulders, changing addresses, and sleeping with guns began to sink in, Republicans were sounding a grim note, far removed from their triumphant election victories in November, when their world was a far safer place.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said yesterday, as he peeked cautiously into the hallway from behind his office door, “This is not about us. This is not about bipartisanship and meeting in the middle. This is about survival. It’s every lawmaker for himself.”
Both Mr. Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had promised to reverse Congress’ pattern of hurtling from crisis to crisis, even over matters like appropriations that were once relatively routine.
But in their first big test, the Republican leaders, while often seemingly working off different playbooks, somehow managed to conspire to make an enemy of Homeland Security and put the lives of every lawmaker at risk.
The frosty relationship it now enjoys with the sprawling and powerful department – some have described the association between the two as “verging on hostility - bodes poorly for a Congress that traditionally places a premium on security, particularly its own, and has left many lawmakers pessimistic that the 114th Congress will live out its term, much less be able to work in a bipartisan fashion on complicated issues.
Some threatened lawmakers continued to hold out hope that the president might intervene, using his executive power to put them in touch with Secret Service agents who may have been let go in the aftermath of last year’s White House fence-jumping incident – or possibly just by playing golf with them on a regular basis.
But Mr. Johnson said that it was “indulging in a fantasy” to believe you can try to shut down the Department of Homeland Security and then ride it out on a golf course.
“These decisions have consequences,” he said.
“Our leadership set the stage for this,” said Rep. John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “We have not been doing anything these past few years but shoot ourselves in the foot. And after this, we’ll be lucky if that’s the only injury we suffer.”
Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.