Washington (CNN)Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday appeared to emerge as a rare Republican voice open to the prospect of voting to fund the Department of Homeland Security without including a provision addressing President Barack Obama's executive action delaying deportations for millions of immigrants. But soon after the comments were publicized, a spokesman for Rubio tried to walk them back.
Rubio talks DHS funding ahead of possible shutdown
The issue has become a sticking point in the debate over DHS funding. Senate Democrats are opposed to the House-passed funding bill, which includes a plank addressing the immigration move, and the debate threatens to shut down the department if the House and the Senate can't agree on a compromise by Friday of next week.
Asked about the debate on Wednesday during a book tour stop in Las Vegas, Rubio declared: "We have to fund Homeland Security."
"Look, I'm in favor of any measure that has a chance of succeeding that could stop the new order, but the truth of the matter is the President's not going to sign that and we don't have the votes to pass it in the Senate," he said. "We can't let Homeland Security shut down."
His comments stop just short of fully endorsing a clean funding bill, but they're the friendliest yet from a Republican presidential contender toward the possibility.
Hours later, Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said the comments don't mark a departure from Rubio's previously stated position on the issue, and he opposes any bill that doesn't address the order.
"Marco will not support a DHS funding bill that does not repeal the President's executive order," he said in an email.
Few other Republicans have expressed any interest in passing a clean funding bill, though Sen. John McCain this weekend insisted DHS funding was "too serious" to become a political football.
"I think it would be terrible [if DHS shut down]. The American people didn't give us a majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans. They want things done. We cannot cut funding from the Department of Homeland Security," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And there's ways we can address what the President did was unconstitutional. But it's not through shutting down the Department of Homeland Security. It's too serious."
A CNN/ORC poll out Wednesday suggests McCain's concerns are founded — a majority of Americans, or 53%, said they'd blame the GOP if the DHS shut down.
But conservatives remain adamant that any funding bill address the executive order, and the message from the rest of the party has been largely unified: Hold the line. House Speaker John Boehner said this weekend he would "certainly" allow funding for DHS to lapse.
And on Wednesday, another potential presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, placed blame on Senate Democrats for refusing to vote for the House DHS funding bill, which includes a provision undoing Obama's executive action. He accused them of "holding DHS hostage" in defense of the executive order, noting that a federal judge this week issued an injunction blocking its implementation.
"That amnesty program has now been declared illegal by a federal court, so Senate Democrats should look very closely at this opinion and decide if they are willing to jeopardize national security, which is both reckless and irresponsible," he said.