Boehner again facing Homeland Security deadline

House Speaker John Boehner, already under fire from unruly conservatives, is facing another agonizing choice over funding the Department of Homeland Security after Democrats thwarted his plans once again on Monday.

Senate Democrats, as expected, blocked a House-passed bill to form a conference committee to work out the differences over competing DHS-funding measures. The move, coming ahead of a Friday-into-Saturday shutdown deadline, put the ball back in Boehner’s court just days after his stopgap proposal was stunningly defeated amid a right-wing revolt.

It’s unclear what happens next. Boehner, R-Ohio, is under intense pressure from a small but vocal coterie of rank-and-file Republicans itching to use the DHS debate to fight President Barack Obama on immigration. Dozens of hard-line conservatives voted against Boehner’s three-week funding bill last week, raising a fresh round of questions about whether he could face a long-shot attempt to dislodge him as speaker.


Mikulski will leave Senate after a record six terms

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a tough and dogged daughter of working-class Baltimore who rose to become the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, said she had one question as she weighed seeking a sixth term: “Do I spend my time raising money, or do I spend my time raising hell?”

The 78-year-old Maryland Democrat, who led the powerful Appropriations Committee, announced Monday that she’d decided on the latter approach and would not seek re-election next year when her fifth term ends.

“I don’t want to spend my time campaigning for me,” she said at a news conference in Fells Point, the now-trendy waterfront neighborhood where her parents had a grocery store and her immigrant grandparents ran a bakery.

Her announcement opens the way for what could be a raucous fight next year to replace her in Maryland’s first open Senate seat in a decade. Potential candidates include former governors – Democrat Martin O’Malley and Republican Bob Ehrlich – and current House members, among them Republican Andy Harris and Democrats Chris Van Hollen, Donna Edwards, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Elijah Cummings. Democratic Rep. John Delaney, a wealthy former businessman, made the first move, announcing over Twitter that he would explore the race.


State’s same-sex marriage ban headed to appeals court

Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban was thrown into question Monday alongside those in three nearby states that are set for a hearing before a federal appeals court.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon struck down Nebraska’s constitutional amendment, triggering an appeal less than an hour later by the state attorney general’s office.

The appeal could place the case before the conservative 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear similar cases out of Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota. The court has tentatively scheduled arguments on the cases for the week of May 11.

Bataillon did not issue a stay on his ruling while the case is appealed, but ordered it not to go into effect until March 9.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, a Republican, said his office would ask the federal appeals court to issue an emergency order barring county officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses while the case is pending. He said otherwise there could be “chaos,” given that some Nebraska county clerks have refused to issue the licenses.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska had sued the state in November on behalf of seven same-sex couples challenging the ban, which had passed with the approval of 70 percent of voters in 2000. In addition to prohibiting gay marriage, it also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships.


Missionaries going home after detention in Venezuela

Four North Dakota missionaries caught up in escalating political tension between the U.S. and Venezuela are expected home on Tuesday after spending a couple of days on a Caribbean Island recovering from their ordeal.

The missionaries with Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Devils Lake flew to Aruba on Saturday after being released by Venezuelan authorities following several days of detention and questioning.

“They’ve been just decompressing and resting, as has their families back here, and looking forward to getting back home tomorrow,” church lead pastor Bruce Dick said Monday.

The church did not immediately identify the three men and one woman or release details on their homecoming plans. All four are married and have children, according to Dick.

“We just want to get them home to their families, and get them rest,” he said.

The State Department told U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., that the missionaries were “deported for not having the appropriate visa,” said Hoeven spokesman Don Canton.

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been rapidly deteriorating as President Nicolas Maduro blames U.S. plotting for the host of economic and social woes plaguing the socialist-governed country. Maduro on Saturday said Venezuela would shrink the size of the U.S. embassy staff, limit the activities of U.S. diplomats and require American citizens to apply for visas.

The missionaries were taken Wednesday from Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town where they have been working to establish a church, to the city of Maracay. They were steadily questioned by authorities over several days but treated well, according to Dick.

— From news service reports