House Republicans May Save Their Border Bill Friday

Two bills could get a vote Friday.

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner speaks during a press briefing July 31, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta and Billy House
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Tim Alberta Billy House
Aug. 1, 2014, 5:45 a.m.

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.”

Matt Berman, Sarah Mimms and Rachel Roubein contributed to this article.
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