Boehner in Another GOP Quandary Over Border-Funding Request

House Republicans will meet Tuesday to begin forming a response to Obama’s bid for $3.7 billion, and the Hastert Rule looms large.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 09: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) talks with reporters after the weekly House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol July 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. The House GOP leadership blamed Senate Democrats for holding up legislation that would create more full-time jobs, they said. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
July 14, 2014, 5:53 p.m.

A fa­mil­i­ar ques­tion that has marked much of this Con­gress is fes­ter­ing again over a le­gis­lat­ive re­sponse to the bor­der crisis: How much is Speak­er John Boehner will­ing to sidestep a ma­jor­ity in his party in or­der to pass any or all of the emer­gency fund­ing re­ques­ted by Pres­id­ent Obama?

On Tues­day morn­ing, House Re­pub­lic­ans will con­fer privately across the street from the Cap­it­ol in their reg­u­larly sched­uled weekly meet­ing to dis­cuss, among oth­er top­ics, Obama’s re­quest for $3.7 bil­lion to deal with the surge of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

There is a good chance a ma­jor­ity of GOP law­makers will want to at­tach strings be­fore ap­prov­ing Obama’s re­quest, and some could pro­pose al­tern­at­ives to his plan al­to­geth­er. In either case, the ques­tion is wheth­er Boehner will stick to a pro­cess that is com­pli­ant with the so-called Hastert Rule, the in­form­al GOP prac­tice that bars a vote on le­gis­la­tion un­less it has the sup­port of a ma­jor­ity of House Re­pub­lic­ans. (It is named for former Speak­er Den­nis Hastert of Illinois.)

On Monday, the in­com­ing House ma­jor­ity whip””Steve Scal­ise, who just weeks ago was lead­er of the 170 con­ser­vat­ives in the House Re­pub­lic­an Study Com­mit­tee””would not an­swer that ques­tion when it was posed to him twice.

Scal­ise offered only that House Re­pub­lic­ans are now com­ing up with “our own plan.” And he pre­dicted “it’s go­ing to solve the prob­lems,” a ref­er­ence to the crisis of thou­sands of chil­dren com­ing to the south­ern bor­der.

Part of the House Re­pub­lic­an meet­ing on Tues­day morn­ing will be a brief­ing by the speak­er’s own “Bor­der Work­ing Group” that was set to ar­rive Monday night back in Wash­ing­ton from a trip to Cent­ral Amer­ica.

House GOP lead­er­ship aides said the work­ing group, led by Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, will not likely be ready to un­veil spe­cif­ic le­gis­lat­ive re­com­mend­a­tions to deal with the crisis, and in­stead will mostly provide an up­date on what they saw and learned on the trip.

But among the changes that sev­er­al GOP aides said will most likely be tar­geted in any Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­la­tion taken up be­fore law­makers break for their Au­gust re­cess is a law that ac­tu­ally took ef­fect in 2008 un­der former Pres­id­ent Bush.

That bi­par­tis­an stat­ute was in­ten­ded to curb child traf­fick­ing, but some law­makers on both sides of the polit­ic­al aisle are now blam­ing it for help­ing to ex­acer­bate the cur­rent crisis.

In fact, Rep. Henry Cuel­lar, D-Texas, has been talk­ing about le­gis­la­tion to al­ter that law. The idea would be to al­low all im­mig­rant chil­dren at the bor­der to be vol­un­tar­ily re­turned home to their fam­il­ies rather than held for de­port­a­tion hear­ings, a swifter pro­cess already al­lowed for un­doc­u­mented young im­mig­rants from Mex­ico and Canada.

But op­pon­ents say that would un­der­mine the pur­pose of the 2008 law””by send­ing people back to places where they prob­ably won’t be safe.

On Monday even­ing, Home­land Se­cur­ity Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son met privately with House Blue Dog Demo­crats on that is­sue.

Mean­while, sen­at­ors from both parties are set to re­ceive a private brief­ing on the same is­sue as well as on the pres­id­ent’s over­all fund­ing re­quest from John­son; Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Sylvia Math­ews Bur­well; act­ing Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget Dir­ect­or Bri­an Dees; and Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­er­al James Cole.

In the House, con­sid­er­a­tion of the pres­id­ent’s $3.7 bil­lion re­quest is of­fi­cially un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by ap­pro­pri­at­ors, though no hear­ings had been set as of Monday. Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., says his com­mit­tee will take a thor­ough look at what is be­ing pro­posed over the com­ing days and weeks. He also has said it is clear that ad­di­tion­al fund­ing is needed to take care of these chil­dren, to “en­force the law,” and to “fur­ther se­cure the bor­der.”

Out­side of Con­gress, some con­ser­vat­ives such as Her­it­age Ac­tion CEO Mi­chael Need­ham have said they are eager to see changes in laws that are ham­per­ing the abil­ity to deal with the surge. And in what could loom as a battle cry for some House Re­pub­lic­ans, Need­ham has said the bor­der-se­cur­ity is­sues should be ad­dressed “through the reg­u­lar ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess where pri­or­it­ies can be re­ordered and spend­ing can oc­cur with­in the es­tab­lished budget caps.”

Pub­licly, at least, Boehner has already said some of the things con­ser­vat­ives want to hear. He has de­clared the House is not giv­ing Obama “a blank check,” and he has called this a crisis of the pres­id­ent’s “own mak­ing.” And on Monday, a House GOP lead­er­ship aide pre­dicted Boehner will likely seek both to force the White House to “take a hair­cut” on the dol­lar amount””and to “take on bor­der se­cur­ity pro­vi­sions.”

But will that be enough?

Boehner could once again find him­self locked in try­ing to quench the of­ten un­quench­able de­mands of con­ser­vat­ives who don’t want any more spend­ing out­side of the es­tab­lished ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess and budget caps.

And while do­ing so, he once again has to be meas­ur­ing the po­ten­tial ali­en­a­tion of House Demo­crats whose votes he might ul­ti­mately need to pass such a meas­ure.

But House Rules Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pete Ses­sions, him­self from Texas, pre­dicted the Hastert Rule won’t even come up in this pro­cess, say­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans will unite be­hind an ap­proach.

“That’s the prob­lem,” re­spon­ded Rep. Louise Slaughter, the top Demo­crat on the House Rules Com­mit­tee. She said Re­pub­lic­ans ap­pear dead-set on de­vis­ing a re­sponse to the pres­id­ent without any re­gard to House Demo­crat­ic in­put””or wheth­er their bill has any real chance of be­com­ing law by passing the Demo­crat­ic-led Sen­ate.

“I’m not even sure many of them un­der­stand that’s the pro­cess””it has to pass two houses to be­come law,” Slaughter said.

But Boehner cer­tainly un­der­stands that. The ques­tion is, how does he play this out?

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