The US House rejected Republican leadership, failing to approve a three-week extension of Department of Homeland Security funding and setting up a dramatic showdown hours before the agency goes into partial shutdown.
Funding for crucial national security programs freezes at midnight. If Congress can not pass legislation that allows money to flow, 30,000 DHS employees will be furloughed, while some 200,000 agency staff, including border agents, will be ordered to work without pay.
Keeping the DHS funded is a congressional priority, but it became embroiled in bitter political battle over President Barack Obama's immigration plan, which most Democrats support.
The Senate approved a "clean" DHS funding bill Friday free of controversial amendments sought by House Republicans to block Obama's immigration executive orders.
But the House leadership opted against voting on that measure.
Instead, House Speaker John Boehner introduced a three-week stopgap, which would see money flow to pay for border security, Secret Service protection for the president and airport screening, among other programs.
It would also allow Republicans to continue pressing their case against Obama's plan to provide deportation relief to millions of undocumented workers.
The effort stunningly failed 203 to 224, with 51 Republicans joining most Democrats in rejecting Boehner's ploy.
"Additional votes are now possible later this evening, and maybe this weekend," House Republican number two Kevin McCarthy told lawmakers.
- 'Out of cards to play' -
Republican congresswoman Martha Roby encapsulated the frustration of hard-core conservatives who helped block the temporary measure.
Many have sought to use Congress's power of the purse to rein in what they see as Obama's executive overreach.
"The DHS appropriations bill the Senate sent over was unacceptable. Why? No prohibition of funds for executive amnesty," Roby posted on Twitter.
A measure linking the immigration plan freeze with the funding of critical national security programs passed the House last month, but Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked it, demanding that the two issues be split.
Senate Republicans conceded, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cutting the immigration language from the DHS spending measure.
Democrats and Republicans have talked tough for days on the issue, letting the blame game rage.
"Speaker Boehner is out of cards to play here. He must put the clean, Senate-passed bill on the floor now or risk a homeland security shutdown," number two Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said after the failed House vote.
Options were dwindling before the midnight deadline. Boehner could relent and put the Senate-passed bill fully funding DHS onto the floor for a vote.
If the House passes another last-gasp temporary funding bill in the coming hours, the Senate would have to give final approval before midnight to avoid a partial DHS shutdown.
The White House indicated Obama would sign such a measure, although he would prefer the full funding.
"If the president is faced with a choice of having the Department of Homeland Security shut down or fund that department for a short term, the president is not going to allow the agency to shut down," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.