(This Feb. 24 story was corrected to read state identification for Rep. Duncan as South Carolina, not California in the 11th paragraph.)
By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate leaders took a tentative step on Tuesday that could avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, but it was unclear if House Speaker John Boehner and restive conservatives would support a new concession to Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was willing to hold a vote on a Homeland Security funding bill that is free of provisions blocking President Barack Obama’s immigration actions, if Democrats agree to vote on a stand-alone bill that halts Obama’s November immigration order.
Senate Democrats have stalled the current, House-passed Homeland Security bill because it contains even broader restrictions on Obama’s executive actions to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Obama has threatened to veto the measure.
“I do think we have a responsibility to act here. We have a solution to the problem that deals with both things,” McConnell told reporters in the Capitol.
If the dispute is not resolved by Friday at midnight, spending authority will be cut off for the agency, which spearheads domestic counterterrorism efforts and secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters.
If that happens, the department’s essential protective staff would stay on the job, but there would be no money to pay them until new funding is approved.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he wants assurances that Boehner will bring a clean Homeland Security funding bill to a floor vote before he will consider McConnell’s plan. Otherwise, he said, the Senate may send a “hot potato” to the House with no assurance of passage.
“I‘m waiting to hear from the speaker,” Reid said. “To have Senator McConnell just pass the ball over to the House isn’t going to do the trick.”
A Boehner spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on McConnell’s plan.
Boehner is expected to discuss the issue with House Republicans on Wednesday morning. But more than 20 House conservatives urged Boehner in a letter to hold the line in opposing Obama’s executive immigration actions.
“Now is the time to stand firm against these unlawful executive actions,” said the letter, authored by Republican Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.
The letter from conservatives told House leaders they should not view a recent Texas court decision temporarily blocking Obama’s actions as a way out of the funding impasse, noting the court ruling could be overturned. Obama says his actions have legal precedent.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by John Whitesides and David Gregorio