House GOP Forges Ahead on Border Funding Legislation With No Clear Endgame

Rogers is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rogers is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 23, 2014 at 12:28pm

Updated 5:06 p.m. | House Republicans laid out their requirements for President Barack Obama’s border crisis spending request Wednesday: National Guard troops, more judges for expedited deportations and changes to a 2008 trafficking law that would make it easier to send Central American minors home.  

But with little more than a week before lawmakers are supposed to leave town for the August recess, Democrats digging in against changing the 2008 law, and some conservatives complaining the deportation provisions aren’t harsh enough, it’s not clear GOP leaders have the votes needed to send their bill to the Senate.  

Throughout the day Wednesday, GOP leaders, appropriators and stakeholder members huddled with colleagues to corral support for a possible $1.5 billion bill — the White House originally asked for $3.7 billion — to fund enforcement agencies that have been stretched thin by the overwhelming surge of Central American migrants in southern Texas.  

But as of Wednesday afternoon, no formal piece of legislation had been introduced and no decisions had been made as to whether the GOP’s funding proposal and its separate policy provisions would be contained in one package or two.  

Appropriations Democrats had not even been briefed on the details of a spending package, according to a Democratic committee aide.  

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters: “When the leadership lays out the plans for timing of what we do, we’ll be ready. … It’s pretty close to being ready.”  

Meanwhile, a sizable number of rank-and-file Republicans said Wednesday that doing nothing at all would be better than passing legislation the Democrat-controlled Senate would likely make more lenient on undocumented immigrants — or that Obama would just ignore like he has, they say, with other laws on the books.  

“We like her ideas,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., of the recommendations put forth by Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the specially appointed GOP working group tasked with coming up with the border recommendations. “The problem is, if we pass them, they’ll be gone.” And while perhaps some Democrats would be willing to stand in for Republican holdouts to get to the necessary 218 votes, that may not be enough to bridge the gap.  

Several dozen Democrats have pledged not to vote for any border funding package that contains changes to the 2008 trafficking law, which they say would expose children to the exploitation and harm from which they were fleeing. More Democrats are beginning to take that position, including those who were at one point inclined to hold their noses and vote for it in the interest of getting something done.  

The House’s top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi of California, is one of them.  

“I am very happy and very delighted to see the evolution of the minority leader on this issue,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force.  

When asked how many Democrats he thought would vote for the legislation should it resemble the framework laid out by Republicans on Wednesday, Gutiérrez said, “I hope none.”  

Republicans are likely, though, to get at least Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, a member of the Hispanic Caucus who has alienated many of his peers by introducing legislation to amend the trafficking law and working closely with Granger to ensure that the language of his bill got reflected in the GOP task force’s recommendations.  

“I think you’ll find centrist Democrats are looking at this, at least the ones that have been contacting me,” Cuellar said of the Republican proposal that has been largely slammed by the Democratic Caucus.  

They could include two of Cuellar’s Democratic colleagues in the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition: Jim Costa of California — who, like Cuellar, is also a CHC member — and Ron Barber of Arizona.  

The GOP is hoping more of these Democrats are willing to buck their leadership if necessary, and the process of shaming them for waffling has already begun.  

“In your letter to Congress on June 30, 2014, you said you supported ‘providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador,’” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter Wednesday afternoon to President Barack Obama. “We were surprised that you did not include these changes in your formal supplemental request. Worse, in recent days, senior congressional leaders in your own political party have backpedaled and voice unswerving opposition to any changes at all.  

“Frankly,” Boehner continued, “it is difficult to see how we can make any progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law.”  

Many Republicans are also looking to exert pressure on members who are of the opinion that doing nothing is better than doing something that could get weakened by the Senate — a similar argument conservatives made against moving on an immigration overhaul bill that could get merged with the other chamber’s legislation that contained a pathway to legalization for undocumented individuals.  

“That’s not an excuse,” said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., one of the most conservative members of the House Republican Conference and certainly the most right-leaning member appointed to the GOP border task force. “It’s very frustrating.”  

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., another reliable conservative voice in the conference who still hoped the House would act on an immigration overhaul in the 113th Congress, agreed inaction was an untenable position.  

“We’re a nation of laws and we can’t quit passing laws because we’re worried about upholding the rule of law,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We need to keep moving forward.”  

And Republicans at the helm of negotiations hoped they would ultimately prove successful in communicating a sense of urgency to find a solution — and before Congress returns to business in September, no less.  

“From the reports coming from a couple of the agencies, they might be close to running out of money before we get to September,” said Rogers, “so that’s one of the reasons why we have to do this now.”  

“You don’t just walk away from something like this and say ‘We’ll be back in a month,’” Granger said.  

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.