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Homeland Security Gets Stopgap Funding, But More Political Battles Loom


After a day of negotiation, failure and more negotiation, last night, Congress managed to cobble together a last-minute deal to fund the Department of Homeland Security - for a week, anyway. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Mara, DHS funding is really a proxy fight over President Obama's immigration policy. How much longer can this back-and-forth go on, though, and who's it hurting politically?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, It's hurting the Republicans, although getting a seven-day funding bill is better than having a shutdown of the department that fights terrorism, because if that happened, Republicans would be blamed. Even the seven-day bill was a huge embarrassment for John Boehner because he couldn't get his conservatives to go along with a three-week funding bill. The three-week bill was an idea that he and the Republican leader in the Senate came up with to buy themselves some time to convince conservatives to drop their efforts to hold DHS funding hostage in an effort to stop the president from issuing those executive actions on immigration, allowing deportation relief for millions of immigrants here illegally. Those efforts have run into the brick wall of Democratic filibusters in the Senate and eventually they would run into the brick wall of an un-reversible presidential veto.

RATH: Onto another fight between Congress and the president. You and I talked before about the rancor over Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to address Congress. That will be happening next week, but it seems to get more contentious with each approaching day. How do you see this playing out?

LIASSON: Well, next week is going to be quite a week. On Tuesday, Netanyahu is going to speak to Congress. He was invited by Republicans, who didn't bother to tell the president. His speech will be an effort to convince Congress that they should block the president's attempt to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. Meanwhile, at the same time in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry and a bunch of other international negotiators are going to try to see if they can get a deal with Iran by the end of March, which is their deadline. And in the middle of that period, on March 17, you've got the Israeli election.

So the big foreign-policy question here is, is a deal that curtails, but does not eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities better than no deal at all? The administration argues that without a deal, the international sanctions regime might fall apart and then Iran would be even closer to developing a nuclear weapon. And they are asking Netanyahu, what is your alternative to a deal other than a war with Iran?

RATH: And one other thing we're looking ahead to next week - the Supreme Court is going to hear a major challenge to Obamacare. What is this lawsuit alleging and how big a threat is it to the healthcare law?

LIASSON: It's a huge threat to the healthcare bill. The challengers say that people who get their insurance through the federal exchange - that's - are not entitled to subsidies. The administration says that's not true. The subsidies were meant for everyone.

And this is a huge threat because it would potentially be a mortal blow to the president's signature healthcare law. But it also is a challenge to Republicans, who could be blamed for 7 million people losing their subsidies. And they'd be under pressure to fix this. There are some Republicans who see this as a potential opportunity. They could offer to fix the bill, keep the subsidies going, but demand from the president that he make changes in the healthcare law that would be to their liking. Other Republicans, however, don't want to change the law at all. They just want it to be eliminated altogether.

RATH: NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.