Facing First Whip Test, Scalise Gets Good Marks So Far on Border Bill

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (L) speaks to members of the media as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (R) listens after a leadership election at a House Republican Conference meeting June 19, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House GOPs have picked Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the new House majority leader and Scalise as the new majority whip. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Tim Alberta Billy House
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Tim Alberta Billy House
July 29, 2014, 6 p.m.

Steve Scal­ise doesn’t form­ally take over as ma­jor­ity whip un­til Thursday, but some House Re­pub­lic­ans say he’s already de­liv­er­ing on his twin cam­paign prom­ises of bring­ing con­ser­vat­ives in­to the fold and con­sult­ing mem­bers on the front end of the poli­cy­mak­ing pro­cess.

After win­ning last month’s spe­cial elec­tion, the Louisi­ana Re­pub­lic­an will of­fi­cially suc­ceed Kev­in Mc­Carthy as the House GOP’s No. 3 at week’s end — just in time for law­makers to head home for their five-week sum­mer re­cess. Thursday’s ex­pec­ted vote on emer­gency fund­ing to deal with the south­ern bor­der crisis rep­res­ents the first real test for Scal­ise and his vote-count­ing op­er­a­tion. Some on the party’s right flank re­main un­happy with the meas­ure, and suc­cess is not cer­tain un­til the votes are tal­lied. But so far, Scal­ise’s col­leagues say he is hit­ting the right notes.

The bor­der bill, which car­ries a $659 mil­lion price tag to fin­ance a num­ber of se­cur­ity and hu­man­it­ari­an mis­sions through the end of the fisc­al year, is ex­pec­ted to pass the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives on Thursday. And, if some op­tim­ist­ic Re­pub­lic­ans are cor­rect, they may not even need Demo­crat­ic votes to push them over the fin­ish line. If that hap­pens, they say, much of the cred­it should go to Scal­ise, who last week met with scores of mem­bers and took their in­put back to his lead­er­ship team to help craft a pass­able bill.

“They seemed genu­inely in­ter­ested in find­ing a bill that 218 Re­pub­lic­ans could sup­port. And that just tickles me pink,” Rep. Cyn­thia Lum­mis of Wyom­ing said of Scal­ise and his new whip team. “I have felt that in the past, le­gis­la­tion was draf­ted in the bowels of lead­er­ship, brought to the floor, and they just said, ‘Hold your nose.’ … I felt this was one of the first really sin­cere ef­forts that I’ve seen from lead­er­ship, reach­ing out to try first to get Re­pub­lic­ans on board.”

Lum­mis, who said she spent nearly six hours last week in meet­ings with Scal­ise and his lieu­ten­ants, was thrilled when she saw her con­cerns ad­dressed dur­ing the un­veil­ing of the bill at Tues­day morn­ing’s con­fer­ence meet­ing. In fact, she took the mi­cro­phone in the meet­ing and thanked the lead­er­ship team — Scal­ise, in par­tic­u­lar — for en­cour­aging a bot­tom-up ap­proach in craft­ing the bor­der bill.

“That was the sense you heard from people: ‘I like this pro­cess,’ ” said Rep. Aaron Schock, a seni­or mem­ber of Scal­ise’s whip team. “It wasn’t lead­er­ship say­ing, ‘Here’s a bill; now fall in line.’ It was, ‘Hey, guys, what do you want to see?’ And then the bill was draf­ted.”

Schock ad­ded, “Steve prom­ised a change in pro­cess dur­ing the whip’s race. And that’s ex­actly what happened with this bill…. And at the end of the day, the pro­cess of listen­ing first and then draft­ing the le­gis­la­tion is one that we should look to on a con­tinu­al basis.”

But des­pite the early pos­it­ive re­views, it was un­clear on Tues­day af­ter­noon just how many Re­pub­lic­ans were on board — and how much work was left for Scal­ise to do.

Holed-up in a private room in the Cap­it­ol base­ment, clustered around a table as staffers looked on, Scal­ise and his whip team as­sessed their pro­gress in selling a bill that car­ries plenty of po­ten­tial land mines. But bey­ond its policy and polit­ic­al im­plic­a­tions, shep­herd­ing the meas­ure through to pas­sage also rep­res­ents a maid­en voy­age, of sorts, for Scal­ise, his chief deputy whip, Patrick McHenry, and their seni­or whip team.

That, even as there was some hes­it­a­tion to ac­know­ledge own­er­ship of the le­gis­la­tion’s fate.

“We don’t of­fi­cially be­come whip un­til Thursday,” Scal­ise said on his way in­to the meet­ing, re­fer­ring to the fact that, tech­nic­ally, Mc­Carthy and his old whip team are in place un­til mid­night Thursday. That’s when Mc­Carthy of­fi­cially moves up to the of­fice of ma­jor­ity lead­er, and Scal­ise takes over as whip.

“But we’ll be cer­tainly help with it,” Scal­ise said of the bor­der bill.

McHenry was more def­in­ite, though, when asked mo­ments later if this le­gis­la­tion rep­res­ents Team Scal­ise’s first real rodeo. “Yeah, I’d say it is,” said McHenry, as he opened the door to HC-8, and dis­ap­peared in­side to join the closed-door strategiz­ing.

The emer­gency pack­age is scaled down from the ver­sion dis­cussed at last week’s con­fer­ence meet­ing — the res­ult, Re­pub­lic­ans said, of Scal­ise’s meet­ings with mem­bers who were un­com­fort­able with the dol­lar amount and time­frame ini­tially pro­posed.

“Lead­er­ship has listened to us from last week, and I think the ma­jor­ity of my col­leagues sup­port it now,” said Rep. Tim Wal­berg of Michigan. Speak­ing of Scal­ise’s bap­tism by fire mov­ing in­to the whip’s job, Wal­berg ad­ded: “He’s got some people on his side, like Raul Lab­rador; that says something about the work he’s done.”

In­deed, lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives such as Lab­rador and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio are sup­port­ing Scal­ise’s ef­forts, re­mov­ing some of the re­li­able road­b­locks of op­pos­i­tion to lead­er­ship-sponsored ini­ti­at­ives.

Still, not every­one is sold. Some con­ser­vat­ives are un­happy that the pack­age does not in­clude lan­guage re­peal­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive or­der on De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals, or DACA. Without ad­dress­ing this, those law­makers warn, Re­pub­lic­ans will be ig­nor­ing the root of the cur­rent crisis at the bor­der.

“The thing that brought this calam­ity to­geth­er was the DACA memor­andum,” said Rep. John Flem­ing of Louisi­ana. “And that’s not even be­ing ad­dressed here.”

What would be ad­dressed are the Re­pub­lic­an pri­or­it­ies of bor­der se­cur­ity and hu­man­it­ari­an as­sist­ance. About two-thirds of the funds would be al­loc­ated for se­cur­ity pur­poses — de­ploy­ing the Na­tion­al Guard, in­creas­ing the num­ber of de­ten­tion beds, and adding more tem­por­ary judges to speed up chil­dren’s cases. About one-third of the money would go to the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment to provide hu­man­it­ari­an re­lief.

From a policy per­spect­ive, the pack­age is a trimmed-down ver­sion of the pro­pos­al offered last week by GOP Rep. Kay Granger of Texas and her work­ing group. This meas­ure will in­clude ex­ped­ited re­mov­al pro­ceed­ings with more judges, tweaks to a 2008 traf­fick­ing law so chil­dren from non-con­tigu­ous coun­tries are treated the same as those from Mex­ico and Canada, and re­pat­ri­ation ef­forts with Cent­ral Amer­ica’s North­ern Tri­angle, Granger told re­port­ers Tues­day.

These policy points read like a check­list of what many con­ser­vat­ives said they needed to see in or­der to ap­prove an emer­gency pack­age this week be­fore de­part­ing for the an­nu­al Au­gust re­cess. Be­cause of that, the bill ap­pears poised to clear the lower cham­ber without the as­sist­ance of any Demo­crat­ic votes. With 433 vot­ing mem­bers cur­rently in the House, 217 yeas are needed for pas­sage. Re­pub­lic­ans hold 234 seats, mean­ing that GOP lead­ers can lose up to 17 of their mem­bers and still ap­prove the meas­ure without aid from across the aisle.

But im­mig­ra­tion hard-liners in the con­fer­ence aren’t go­ing down quietly. Rep. Steve King of Iowa com­plained that Scal­ise’s team has made no ef­fort to lobby for his vote. “Of the things I’ve asked for, I don’t see any of them,” King said. “I want the money to go dir­ectly to the states. I read the bill; it doesn’t do that. I want to cut off the fund­ing to DACA. It doesn’t do that — it lets the pres­id­ent con­tin­ue.”

But Scal­ise’s de­cision to ig­nore King speaks to the shrewd­ness of his whip­ping op­er­a­tion: not wast­ing time on mem­bers who can’t be con­vinced. By fo­cus­ing on the per­suad­able mem­bers of his con­fer­ence — and em­phas­iz­ing that in­put will be wel­comed from the con­ser­vat­ive rank and file — the in­com­ing whip seems to have hit the ground run­ning and in­spired a here­to­fore un­seen op­tim­ism among his col­leagues.

“It was un­pre­ced­en­ted the way this was handled. And it just happened to co­in­cide with Mr. Scal­ise tak­ing the reins of the whip team,” Lum­mis said. Asked wheth­er that could be co­in­cid­ent­al, she replied: “Not at all.”

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