John Boehner, the Republican House of Representatives speaker, said he is willing to let funding for the Department of Homeland Security lapse as part of a Republican push to roll back President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
With a Feb. 27 deadline looming for funding the department, Senate Democrats three times this month blocked consideration of the Homeland Security appropriations bill, which has already been approved by the House.
"Senate Democrats are the ones standing in the way. They’re the ones jeopardizing funding," Boehner told Fox News on Sunday. Asked if he was prepared to let financing for the department lapse, he said: "Certainly. The House has acted. We’ve done our job."
Arizona Senator John McCain, a leading Republican voice on national security matters, told NBC's "Meet the Press" of his alarm at the situation.
"The American people did not give us majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans," McCain said, referring to Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate after November's congressional elections. "They want things done. You cannot cut funding from the Department of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out."
Democrats want to fund the department but oppose House amendments stripping funding from Obama's 2012 and 2014 executive orders lifting a deportation threat for millions of illegal immigrants.
The Republican legislation passed by the House put Senate Republicans in a tough position because not only do they lack the votes to prevent Obama's fellow Democrats from using procedural hurdles to block the bill but also some Republican senators have expressed misgivings about tying homeland security funding to the immigration issue.
"The House has acted to de-fund the department and to stop the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his executive orders," Boehner said. "... And the Congress just can’t sit by and let the president defy the Constitution and defy his own his oath of office."
The House's top Democrat was quick to fire back.
"With only four legislative days left until the Republican Homeland Security Shutdown, Speaker Boehner made it clear that he has no plan to avoid a government shutdown that would threaten the safety of the American people," Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, said in an email.
"The speaker’s reliance on talking points and finger-pointing was a sad reflection of the fact that (the) Tea Party continues to hold the gavel as they insist on their futile anti-immigrant grandstanding."
Obama has threatened to veto the House-passed measure. Democrats insist on a "clean" funding bill with no immigration restrictions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said last week that the Senate was "stuck" and the next move was up to the House.
"Unfortunately, I don't see exactly how Congress is going to resolve this," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS's "Face the Nation".
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Frances Kerry and David Goodman)