Republicans Regroup on Border Funding Bill

Posted July 31, 2014 at 6:06pm

The House will hold off on leaving town for its five-week August recess until Republicans find the votes to pass legislation addressing the border crisis.

It could happen as early as Friday morning — the GOP will gather at 9 a.m. to discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday. Republicans departing from an emergency conference meeting Thursday afternoon told reporters they felt confident that, through a process of educating colleagues and agreeing to make some changes to existing legislative language, they could muster enough votes to pass the new measure.

If a deal isn’t reached by then, said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., “I think we’ll be back here the next day.”

“If we have to work longer or through the weekend, I think there’s a genuine desire to do that,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said.

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador told reporters he was prepared to stay in town to hash out an agreement, even if it meant missing a religious ritual on Saturday back home in Idaho in anticipation of his son’s upcoming nuptials.

It remains to be seen how party leaders expect to come up with any new proposal that sufficiently addresses the demands of some of the conference’s most conservative hold-outs.

Leadership’s eleventh-hour gambit Wednesday night was to put a package on the floor on Thursday afternoon that would allow members to vote first on the border funding bill, then on legislation to stop the planned White House expansion of a program which grants stays of deportations to young undocumented immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Those bills each would be sent to the Senate separately.

Lacking confidence about the whip count, leaders scrapped that plan just moments before the chamber was set to vote, immediately sending a ripple of fear into the House Republican Conference about the optics of going home for recess without having addressed the border crisis.

So even as the Senate prepares to leave for its own recess Thursday night, Republican discussions will continue into Friday as to how to “tighten” the legislative language to appease the reluctant members of the rank and file.

They are eyeing changes to the DACA language in particular. The House GOP initially thought it would be voting on language identical to that contained in a pair of bills sponsored by Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee that would prevent the government from spending any more money on the DACA program. The text of Blackburn’s bill, however, was quietly changed on Wednesday night to only prohibit the government from issuing “guidance, memorandums, policies, or other similar instruments” relating to the initiative.

“It weakened it, it watered it down, and that became a problem,” said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana.

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama said the new language “seemed to legalize the president issuing work permits to illegal aliens.”

Those Republicans want the original Cruz version, or nothing.

Salmon said other changes could involve strengthening asylum laws to crack down on fraud within the system, adding that the provision could be similar to one in a bill recently introduced by Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said some Republicans wanted to see even more changes to a 2008 trafficking law. Right now, the border funding bill would tweak that law to make it easier for unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to volunteer for deportation. King said there were discussions underway about how to ensure that all children are treated the same when they are taken into custody, given that there are currently discrepancies in treatment depending on the country of origin.

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky told reporters that members involved in the effort would be working throughout the night to hash out an agreement, but rank-and-file members said they would be burning the midnight oil, too.

Fleming said he would push for consideration of a resolution expressing “a sense of the House that the president caused the problem, the president can fix the problem.”

Brooks said he and a number of other members were in talks about coming up with their own plan that could win the majority of House Republican votes.

“The problem is, you’ve got some people who want a very secure border, and some other people who tend to be more pro-immigration and less secure borders,” Brooks said. “More amnesty, and you’ve got that natural conflict.”

Members leaving the 90-minute meeting Thursday afternoon said they felt leadership listened to them, and said they are hopeful their grievances would be taken into consideration so they could lend support to the effort.

One of the original hold-outs, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, said no matter what happens on Friday and in the days ahead, a message had been delivered “loud and clear” to Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, who in a matter of hours are set to officially become the new majority leader and majority whip.

Gosar suggested leadership had tried to “strong-arm” and disrespect lawmakers with strong opinions on immigration.

“When you have children who learn at that speed you take them from the head of the class to remedial,” Gosar told CQ Roll Call. “I hope that leadership is learning they could have avoided this by talking to people who had concerns about tightening the language. I think that message was delivered today loud and clear.”

Matt Fuller, Tamar Hallerman, Ellyn Ferguson, Emily Ethridge and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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