After Delay, House GOP Plans Second Try on Border Bills

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) walks away after speaking to the media after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol January 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner spoke on various issues including tonight's State of the Union speech by U.S. President Barack Obama.
National Journal
Billy House, Tim Alberta and Michael Catalini
Billy House Tim Alberta Michael Catalini
July 31, 2014, 9:56 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers are hop­ing to take a second whack at passing an emer­gency bor­der-fund­ing pack­age, after they sud­denly backed off a planned vote Thursday af­ter­noon amid dis­con­tent with­in their own ranks.

The le­gis­la­tion had been un­likely to ad­vance in the Sen­ate, and already had been tick­eted for a pres­id­en­tial veto. But the de­cision to pull the $659 mil­lion meas­ure rep­res­en­ted a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment for Speak­er John Boehner and his lead­er­ship team — es­pe­cially for Rep. Steve Scal­ise. He does not of­fi­cially be­come ma­jor­ity whip un­til Fri­day, but he and his new whip team had made this the first bill in which they had be­come act­ively en­gaged in vote-gath­er­ing.

After telling mem­bers the cham­ber was fin­ished for the week, House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy re­versed course and said on the floor that it was still “pos­sible” that there would be votes on the meas­ures. House Re­pub­lic­ans had a closed-door meet­ing at 3 p.m. Thursday and plan to have an­oth­er gath­er­ing Fri­day at 9 a.m. to fig­ure out the next steps and dis­cuss le­gis­lat­ive changes made by the lead­er­ship to lure con­ser­vat­ives.

“This situ­ation shows the in­tense con­cern with­in our con­fer­ence — and among the Amer­ic­an people — about the need to en­sure the se­cur­ity of our bor­ders and the pres­id­ent’s re­fus­al to faith­fully ex­ecute our laws,” GOP lead­ers said in a joint state­ment after the votes were can­celed.

The de­cision to pull the bill from con­sid­er­a­tion came des­pite a car­rot ex­ten­ded to re­luct­ant con­ser­vat­ives to back the spend­ing bill in ex­change for a second vote later Thursday on a GOP meas­ure to rein in Pres­id­ent Obama’s dis­cre­tion­ary au­thor­ity to de­fer de­port­a­tions.

That is something that hard-liners, in­clud­ing Sen. Ted Cruz, have been in­sist­ing should be part of any bor­der-crisis le­gis­la­tion, even though it is not dir­ectly re­lated to the crisis.

But con­ser­vat­ives Thursday ob­jec­ted that lan­guage in the second bill, to freeze any ex­pan­sion of the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rival pro­gram, wasn’t tough enough.

To ad­dress the con­cerns, lead­ers are con­sid­er­ing go­ing back to an ori­gin­al ver­sion of the DACA bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn, R-Tenn. And Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said he and oth­ers are put­ting to­geth­er their own pro­posed changes.

That bill as it stood Thursday would pro­hib­it the ad­min­is­tra­tion, and any fed­er­al agency, from is­su­ing any “guid­ance, memor­andums, reg­u­la­tions, policies, or oth­er sim­il­ar in­stru­ments” to “newly au­thor­ize de­ferred ac­tion” for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, or au­thor­ize them to work in the coun­try.

But the ori­gin­al ver­sion was tough­er, in that it spe­cially pro­hib­ited spe­cif­ic types of fund­ing and such things as deny­ing any un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rant on pro­ba­tion tem­por­ary per­mis­sion to work in the coun­try.

If noth­ing else, the House pas­sage of its own crisis fund­ing bill was seen as giv­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans room to claim over the next weeks that they at least did something be­fore their break to ad­dress the surge of tens of thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented minors from Cent­ral Amer­ica pour­ing in­to the U.S. — even if what was ac­com­plished was a one-cham­ber bill.

But the meas­ure is a far cry from the $3.7 bil­lion re­quest Obama gave to Con­gress earli­er this month. The bill also provides sig­ni­fic­antly less than the $2.7 bil­lion con­tained in a Sen­ate bill to deal with the bor­der crisis, which was also set to be voted on.

And in the end, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers ap­par­ently were un­able to at­tract enough votes to feel as­sured of get­ting the meas­ure passed — either with the sup­port of their own mem­bers, or in some com­bin­a­tion with Demo­crats, whose lead­ers had op­posed it.

“We’ve got a caucus of widely dis­par­ate views and it nev­er really gelled … 218 on our side to sup­port the bill,” said House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Har­old Ro­gers.

Scal­ise and his in­com­ing whip team felt con­fid­ent Wed­nes­day night and in­to Thursday that they had enough Re­pub­lic­an votes to pass the bor­der bill re­gard­less of any Demo­crat­ic sup­port, and GOP lead­ers were pre­pared to move the bill to the floor for an early-af­ter­noon vote.

“As of this af­ter­noon the plan was still to move for­ward,” said a seni­or GOP aide.

But around 1:45 p.m. law­makers were aler­ted on their cell phones that the vote had been ab­ruptly can­celed. No ex­plan­a­tion was im­me­di­ately offered, leav­ing dazed law­makers to ask one an­oth­er what had just happened.

Demo­crats, mean­while, were giddy at the news of the Re­pub­lic­an col­lapse. In the House base­ment, Rep. Jared Pol­is of Col­or­ado spot­ted an alert on his phone and hollered to a col­league: “You hear Speak­er Cruz messed up their ef­forts over here again?”

Scal­ise’s new whip team was privately blam­ing the op­pos­i­tion of Sen. Jeff Ses­sions , R-Ala., for caus­ing last-second prob­lems lead­ing up the planned vote.

Ac­cord­ing to a mem­ber of the team, Scal­ise told some Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing sev­er­al in the Alabama del­eg­a­tion, de­cided not to back the bill after be­ing lob­bied by Ses­sions. He has op­posed the bill be­cause it does not it­self con­tain lan­guage to freeze Obama from ex­pand­ing his uni­lat­er­al de­fer­rals.

Ses­sions also ques­tioned last week on the Sen­ate floor wheth­er agen­cies in­volved in the crisis are really “in dire need of sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing from this Con­gress.” But mostly, said the mem­ber of the whip team, Ses­sions’s op­pos­i­tion was to the lack of DACA lan­guage in the House sup­ple­ment­al bill. He was not sat­is­fied with let­ting a sep­ar­ate vote oc­cur on that is­sue.

“His com­ments carry great weight,” said Brooks, when asked how much in­flu­ence Ses­sions may have had on Thursday’s events in the House.

Some Texas mem­bers of the del­eg­a­tion also were un­sat­is­fied, said the whip mem­ber.

“We had it — we even had Justin Amash as one of the ones with us,” said the mem­ber, re­fer­ring to the Michigan Re­pub­lic­an with a his­tory of break­ing with lead­er­ship.

“When Jeff Ses­sions came over here, it gummed everything up,” he said.

“We didn’t want to put it on the floor with just 215 votes,” he said of the num­ber they were at, be­cause he said Demo­crat­ic lead­ers would then get in­volved in try­ing to pres­sure mem­bers of their party from cross­ing over and provid­ing the two or three ad­di­tion­al votes needed.

Alabama Rep. Spen­cer Bachus down­played Ses­sions’ in­volve­ment in the House. “The Sen­ate doesn’t tell me how to vote,” he said.

Bauchus told re­port­ers the House could stay in ses­sion Fri­day or through the week­end. “Could be here at Christ­mas,” Rep. Ral­ph Hall in­ter­jec­ted.

Some out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups, like Her­it­age Ac­tion, also lob­bied against the bill.

“The was the Scal­ise whip team’s first big bill, and hav­ing to rely on Demo­crats would not have en­gendered much con­fid­ence,” said Dan Holler, a Her­it­age spokes­man. “And what we hear is it be­came clear they needed Demo­crat­ic votes.”

That op­pos­i­tion was frus­trat­ing to the many Re­pub­lic­an law­makers who were eager to get something passed be­fore re­cess.

“I think we’d be reck­less for us to leave Wash­ing­ton without vot­ing on this bor­der-se­cur­ity bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent. “I say put the bill out on the floor for a vote. If it fails, it fails. And those who vote against it go home and ex­plain it.”

As for Scal­ise and Mc­Carthy, Dent said: “It’s not a great way to start, ob­vi­ously, but I’m not blam­ing the new lead­er­ship.”

Rep. Dev­in Nunes, a close ally of Boehner, called the in­flu­ence of Cruz and oth­er foes “not help­ful…. It’s just shock­ing to me that some of these guys want to turn over their vot­ing cards to the Sen­ate or some of these out­side groups.”

But oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans dis­missed the idea that Cruz, the Texas sen­at­or who hos­ted some House col­leagues for pizza in his of­fice Wed­nes­day night, moved the needle on this vote. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the im­mig­ra­tion hard-liner who has led the op­pos­i­tion to the bor­der bill, at­ten­ded the Cruz gath­er­ing and said the sen­at­or “listened more than he talked” and did not at­tempt to whip against the bill.

“He did not ut­ter a word of op­pos­i­tion,” King said.

Whatever the cause of the melt­down, the un­ex­pec­ted col­lapse had House lead­er­ship aides seeth­ing on Thursday af­ter­noon. One seni­or Re­pub­lic­an said “at least” 200 GOP law­makers sup­por­ted the bill, and ad­ded that mem­bers were “stunned” to see it pulled from the floor.

That left Boehner and his lead­er­ship team scram­bling to pull to­geth­er a 3 p.m. spe­cial con­fer­ence meet­ing at the re­quest of “pissed off” mem­bers who wanted to vent at col­leagues, ac­cord­ing to one seni­or GOP aide.

Mean­while, the Sen­ate has not yet set a vote time for its $3.57 bil­lion sup­ple­ment­al for the bor­der, Is­rael’s Iron Dome, and West­ern U.S. wild­fires. But with news that the House may have pulled its bill, Demo­crat­ic lead­ers are already pre­dict­ing that the pres­id­ent will have to act on his own.

As­sist­ant Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Durbin sug­ges­ted the pres­id­ent might move funds from else­where in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s budget to deal with the bor­der crisis.

“The pres­id­ent is gonna have to re­spond to it and that means he’s gonna have to try to mar­tial the re­sources from oth­er places,” Durbin said. “That means cut­ting back spend­ing in some oth­er areas, so it won’t be without some pain.”

They’re also pin­ning polit­ic­al blame on Re­pub­lic­ans and sug­gest­ing that the GOP sty­mied the pres­id­ent and Sen­ate Demo­crats’ at­tempts to ad­dress the crisis.

“The pres­id­ent has tried to re­spond in a hu­mane, sens­ible, leg­al way, and sadly the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives is un­able to get a ma­jor­ity to sup­port that ap­proach,” Durbin said.

In the Sen­ate, the Demo­crats are poised to block Re­pub­lic­ans from of­fer­ing amend­ments on the sup­ple­ment­al bill.

“Of course we want to go for­ward with a clean sup­ple­ment­al oth­er­wise we’re gonna get bogged down, un­likely to pass any­thing, and the House may just pick up and leave,” Durbin ad­ded.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are hold­ing out for the chance to of­fer amend­ments. Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn of Texas said there will be a num­ber of dif­fer­ent meas­ures offered, but did not elab­or­ate.

He also blamed Obama for the House’s fail­ure to pass a sup­ple­ment­al.

“It doesn’t help when there’s no lead­er­ship at the White House,” Cornyn said. “So as usu­al noth­ing hap­pens.”

The is­sue might re­sur­face when the Sen­ate re­turns in Septem­ber, sug­ges­ted Durbin, an­swer­ing af­firm­at­ively when asked if law­makers would con­sider the fund­ing later.

This post is break­ing and may be up­dated.

Sarah Mimms and Rachel Roubein contributed to this article.
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