House Republican leaders on Friday morning unveiled a beefed-up emergency funding package dealing with the southern border crisis, an attempt to win over some conservative holdouts after the original legislation was pulled from the House floor Thursday afternoon.
The plan, as presented to members in a morning conference meeting on what was supposed to be the first day of recess, is to stick to two separate bills which members will vote on later Friday. The first bill would be the straight funding measure that's intended to address the influx of unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The second measure addresses the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, but now includes more muscular changes pulled from earlier legislation authored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
As it stood Thursday, that bill would have prohibited the administration, and any federal agency, from issuing "guidance, memorandums, regulations, policies, or other similar instruments" to "newly authorize deferred action" for undocumented immigrants.
But the original version as written by sponsor Blackburn was tougher, in that it prohibited specific types of funding and such things as denying any undocumented immigrants on probation temporary permission to work in the country. That language has been returned to the bill.
The Blackburn bill also specifically prohibits the administration from spending any funds on new applications for DACA. Thursday's bill included no such provision.
House leadership has also added $35 million for the National Guard, and are sending money and resources directly to governors to use at their discretion. This would now bring the cost of the bill up to $694 million, but the added money would be offset with cuts elsewhere.
Tweaks were also made to the portion of the bill addressing a 2008 anti-trafficking law, which has been a key sticking point for House Republicans.
The new language still requires Central American children to be offered voluntary removal after crossing the border, just like those from contiguous countries. However, about 16 pages of the emergency supplemental were gutted, slimming down the bill's procedural language to mirror one authored by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.
Additionally, children must have an immigration court hearing within 14 days, rather than the seven day requirement in the House Republican's original emergency supplemental bill. This change accounts for the high volume of unaccompanied minors flooding across the U.S.-Mexico border, Carter told reporters after exiting Friday's private conference meeting.
Leadership announced that the rule on the revised bills would be debated shortly before noon, setting the table for a possible mid-afternoon vote — and allowing members to head to the airport by Friday evening and return to their districts for a five-week recess.
There are early signs that the revisions made Thursday night and announced Friday morning will be successful in securing enough Republican votes to pass the funding package.
Emerging from the closed-door meeting with colleagues, House Republican leaders were cautiously optimistic that the reworked package has soothed concerns within their own ranks.
"We'll see if this goes," said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, emerging from a closed-door conference of House Republicans.
Speaker John Boehner himself would not comment, but new Majority Whip Steve Scalise — who is in charge of counting and rounding up enough votes for passage — said, "We'll keep working until we get it done."
"I think we're in very good shape," said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Tex., who has headed Boehner's special House Border Working Group. Recommendations from that group were part of the process of putting the legislation together. She said she expected a vote on Friday.
McCarthy confirmed that the reworked package still contains two bills.
"We'll go back to Marsha's original bill," he said.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the House's most hawkish voice on immigration matters, announced in Friday morning's meeting that he's satisfied with the changes and will support the package on the House floor. King's close friend and fellow immigration hardliner, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, pledged to do the same.
Rep. Blackburn emerged from the meeting saying she'll support the new package. She also predicted it will pass on the floor today.
"I think we'll get there," she said.
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., a member of Granger's working group, characterized the meeting as "the best rendition of Kumbaya I've ever seen in my life."
Not everyone is fully optimistic. "I'm not here to tell you that the votes are there," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., but it's closer than yesterday.
There may be at least one defector. "I am leaning no in part because I don't know what's in it," Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said after the meeting.
He needs more time — even just 24 to 48 more hours — to read through the package's changes, he said. It's more important to get something of this magnitude right, he said, than to be aboard an airplane headed home by Friday night.
And Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, who along with King had been leading opposition to the border package, said he's satisfied with the new DACA language — but not the order of the votes.
"I'm very bothered by the fact that ... they won't make a commitment to vote on DACA first. So that tells me that DACA might fail after the border bill passes," Fleming said.
When asked whether either bill stood a chance of becoming law, Fleming replied: "Well no, not at all."
Even if the funding bill does pass, it faces likely death in the Senate once the chamber is back from recess. On Thursday, the Senate failed to pass its own $3.57 billion funding bill which would have allocated $2.7 billion for the border, far more money than the House is considering.
Members said they were glad to go home having offered a solution to the problem, regardless of whether it becomes law. "There's always hope the Senate will come to their senses," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., added. "I would hope the Senate would come back and do their job."