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[WASHINGTON] The House of Representatives failed to pass a stopgap funding bill for the US Department of Homeland Security, throwing efforts to avoid a shutdown tonight into disarray.
House Speaker John Boehner was unable to corral enough votes among his Republican majority to pass the short-term funding bill that would keep the agency operating through March 19. The vote Friday was 203-224.
Funding for the agency expires at midnight. Without new spending, thousands of Homeland Security employees would be furloughed or required to work without pay.
The vote was a stunning embarrassment for Mr Boehner of Ohio, who earlier in the day had to pull a major education bill from the schedule. He now has few options on Homeland Security funds: seeking Democratic votes to pass a Senate bill opposed by his own members, or passing a very short stopgap bill that would bring a shutdown fight next week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address Congress.
"It's a tough position for leadership right now," said Representative Stephen Womack, an Arkansas Republican. "They've got to sort it all out and call a new play." Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland didn't rule out a short-term bill to fund the Homeland Security Department only through the weekend.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, urged his party members in the House to back down and vote for funding. "Do not shut down DHS today or in the future," he said on CNN.
Earlier on Friday,the Senate passed a bill funding the agency through September. House Republicans have said they won't take up that plan because it doesn't seek to block President Barack Obama's orders on immigration as the House majority seeks to do.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the chamber may hold additional votes on Friday and possibly during the weekend.
The confusion over Homeland Security spending follows episodes last month when Mr Boehner had to pull a border-security bill and an anti-abortion measure from the floor for lack of support.
In the 2015 session's opening moments on Jan 6, Mr Boehner was a target of Republican opposition, as 24 of his party members voted for someone else to be speaker. He won the election, though with votes from less than half of the full House membership.
Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who opposed Mr Boehner's election as speaker, said House leaders "should have known" the extent of opposition within their party.
"You have to be in touch with the ground forces before you attack and that's one thing I think has been missing for a long time," Mr Jones said.
Those voting for the stopgap funding measure included 191 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Fifty-two Republicans, including almost half of the Texas delegation, joined 172 Democrats in opposing the bill.
The vote was left open for about 45 minutes as chaos reigned. Republican vote-counters huddled at the leadership table going over printouts of the defectors. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California gripped his forehead as if he had a pounding headache.
Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington could be seen gesticulating at defector Raul Labrador of Idaho as Democrats chanted that the vote should be ended.
The defeat was an expression of anger by Republican conservatives who say their leaders traded away their leverage to force Mr Obama's hand on immigration when they agreed in December to fund the rest of the government through September.
"Our leadership set the stage for this," said John Fleming of Louisiana. "They didn't want to do the battle" in December. "That's when they had the best chance and opportunity," he said.
"They said they would fight tooth and nail," Fleming said, "and yet we didn't really see much effort." Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who voted for the short-term spending bill, said conservatives were undermining their goal of reversing Mr Obama's immigration orders.